Interview with John Carrol Hooper regarding Carolus Verhaeren

Self Portrait by Carolus Verhaeren


This interview was conducted by Pat Schaelchlin at the La Jolla Historical Society January 12, 1993.


MRS. SCHAELCHLIN: This is an interview with John Hooper, and I am going to ask him a few questions about Carolus Verhaeren, who he knew for many years, and he is going to tell us about the man and his paintings. So I will let him just start off with whatever he wants to say, and then I'll ask some questions.

MR. HOOPER: This is John Hooper speaking. I knew Carolus from the time he came in from Detroit. Carolus had been trained as an artist in Europe, in Holland, and in Belgium. He emigrated to this country and moved to Detroit, where he worked with his brother. His brother was a cabinetmaker and builder, and Carolus worked with him on that.

When I first remember him was about 1948 or '49. He was a newcomer in La Jolla here, and he was a very good artist. He worked mostly with a palette knife, very fast, very professional. We painted here in La Jolla, local scenes. And about 1949, there was an old Englishman by the name of Douglas, and he had a 1935 Lincoln, a monstrous thing, and none of us had much money, so we'd get together, Douglas, and Carolus Verhaeren, myself, sometimes Mitchell, and we'd go down to Sorrento Valley, which at that time was a beautiful, rustic place with old farms and old early California adobes, and we'd paint. We'd go out early in the morning and do a morning light scene of various old farms and streams and pretty trees, and then we'd knock off for lunch and drink a few beers and then catch the afternoon light, and we'd do another one in the afternoon.

Now, these were what we called studies that we later did studio oil paintings out of. They were usually 16-20s. When we worked on them from a big painting, they might go as high as 24-30. But these were studies. However, Carolus was so good and so fast with that palette knife that he could do a finished painting in two-three hours. So quite often we would come in with two apiece. This old Lincoln would hold all these artists and had this huge old trunk in the back, and we rigged that out and that's where all the paintings would be. And this went on for many years.

However, right from the start, Carolus was -- he was very independent, to put it kindly, and all of the old women artists here in town didn't get along with him at all, because he was very frank about what he thought about their painting. And when he got into the La Jolla Art Association, which is the oldest one here in La Jolla, someone would be having a show, a one-man show, and he'd come barging in and set his paintings up on the floor and bring his customers and sell right in the middle of this other show. And this really used to send these old gals off. They'd just have a fit.

But he later on became well known here, his work was selling very well, and about 1951, -2, or -3, he started going over into Arizona, and he became one of the early painters over there. He'd go over two-three months in the winter and show his paintings in hotels over there, and then he'd bring back 20 or 30 here, and eventually he rented a studio down on the road that goes to the Cove. And he kept the walls full of paintings. He worked fast and furious, and he always had about 50 or 60 paintings in there, and he had a good trade. And then, as he got more money, he built his own home and built a studio there.

And he had a model, her name was Marie Adkins, who he became quite attached to, and he painted her a lot and he painted things for her. And where I would know her was that at the old Mexican restaurant, Tony's place, was up on Silverado, a very tiny place, only had about six tables in it. Tony was an ex-mariachi player from Mexico city. And Carolus and I used to go there, and he had a mandola and I had a mandolin -- Tony had the mandola, I had the mandolin. And Carolus and myself would play the mandola and mandolin and Tony would play the guitar, and we'd have jam sessions in there, which got Tony's wife quite upset because Tony was the cook in the restaurant. So he'd get up and lock the door and we'd have a jam session. Well, since you forbid people to come in, they had to get in, and this filled up Tony's restaurant till finally he bought out the store next door and made a big restaurant out of it, and the Hollywood crowd started coming in. And at least twice a week Carolus and I would be in there playing the mandolin and yowling and singing with Tony, and we had a lot of fun.

But over the years I started going into the interior of Mexico, and I drifted away from Carolus until 1954, I came back, and he at that time was quite attached to Marie Adkins. I didn't paint so much with him anymore, but I saw him maybe three-four times a month. And although he had a wife and kids, he was having an affair with Marie. And finally she cut it off. And one afternoon, at the old filling station up here on Prospect, I think it was in the corner of Fay, it was up in there somewhere, there was a phone booth there and Carolus went in and called Marie up to have her forgive and forget, and she was firm about cutting it off, and he took his .38 pistol and shot himself through the heart. And I think we lost a first-rate artist when he went that way. It was unfortunate.

MRS. SCHAELCHLIN: You said he was born in Europe?

MR. HOOPER: Yes, he was. He was a European.

MRS. SCHAELCHLIN: In which countrty?

MR. HOOPER: I think he was a little Hollander. He wasn't quite -- he was about five feet tall, completely baldheaded, had big, baby blue eyes, and he looked like a teenager. In spite of that, he was a very cultured man and it gave him a rather belligerent attitude, especially towards older women.

MRS. SCHAELCHLIN: How old was he when he came? Do you know when he was born?

MR. HOOPER: It was hard to tell Carolus' age. He looked like a teenager, but I know he was probably in his middle thirties.

MRS. SCHAELCHLIN: And what did he paint? Did he paint mainly scenes or people?

MR. HOOPER: He could paint beautiful portraits with a palette knife. You have one of his portraits of Parker. I watched him do that.

MRS. SCHAELCHLIN: That was with a palette knife?

MR. HOOPER: Yes, that's with a palette knife. And his scenery, especially desert scenes, or along the coast here, he worked with incredible speed, and he seemed to know what he was doing; there was no rehashing and going over. He was really good.

MRS. SCHAELCHLIN: So he painted quite a few paintings -- he did quite a few paintings.

MR. HOOPER: I would say he painted hundreds of paintings, yes.

MRS. SCHAELCHLIN: Is there any place where -- did he ever have showings of his paintings?

MR. HOOPER: Well, he was a member of the La Jolla Art Association for many years and exhibited there in many one-man shows in Phoenix, Scottsdale, and I forget the name of that little town down south of Tucson, he went that far south. In fact, once he even went down into Mexico.

MRS. SCHAELCHLIN: And is there any place where there is a list of his paintings, or do any of his --

MR. HOOPER: I hear that his wife has passed away, and the last I knew, she had a lot of his paintings. And today I don't know where any of them are.

MRS. SCHAELCHLIN: Did he ever have exhibits in the East? Or was he known outside of this area?

MR. HOOPER: He spoke to me several times about shows he had in the Detroit area, and he was good enough, I'm sure.

MRS. SCHAELCHLIN: You say he was an excellent, a very fast artist, but how did he rank among the rest of the La Jolla artists?

MR. HOOPER: Well, most of us realized that he was one of the best artists out there. We all knew that. The older women didn't like him personally, because he was very abrupt with them, but they respected his work. It was excellent.

MRS. SCHAELCHLIN: Now, Mitchell is considered to be one of the great artists of La Jolla. How would you rank him with Mitchell?

MR. HOOPER: Mitchell was a very refined artist, did very smooth, accomplished work, slightly modern, not too much; I wouldn't call him an impressionist. Verhaeren, in a different manner, would rank just as good as Mitchell. His work was rougher, faster, but very expressive.

MRS. SCHAELCHLIN: And his paintings probably were sold as quickly as they were done?

MR. HOOPER: Well, it's a funny thing, but in those days Mitchell got $50 for a 16-20 and $75 to $125 for a 20-24. Sometimes he'd go as high as $250 for a large one, 30-36. And Verhaeren's prices were about the same. All of us were at that time. In those days, when we sold a $40 painting, that would be worth $400 today.

MRS. SCHAELCHLIN: I have been told that the painting that we have in our heritage collection that was done by Verhaeren 25 years ago has a value today of close to $1,000. Would you agree with that?

MR. HOOPER: Yeah. Yeah, I would today. I think that no matter what kind of [value? ] or lack of it an artist gets while he's living, it doesn't matter. The only thing that counts are his paintings and how they're going to affect future generations. So whatever they thought of him at that time, his paintings will survive long after he does. And I've watched all of the old time artists, I knew them, and most of them were completely ignored at the time. There was always some little phase going on in the art groups, and the critics always followed them. The critics have never paid any attention to the current artists, the ones that survive, not the ones that played the little games. The ones whose paintings today are worth a lot of money, in their day, were getting nothing. And this is not something in the 20th century. If you read art history, it's been all the way back.

MRS. SCHAELCHLIN: I'm afraid that's true. What year -- did you tell us the year in which he died? Was it the fifties?

MR. HOOPER: Let me see. I saw him once at the celebrations we were having in 1954. He actually stopped and took some pictures of me over in the park, and Mitchell was there with us at the time. He took pictures of myself and Mitchell. And old Howard and , oh, quite a few of them. He was very sociable. And that was in '54. It must have been in the sixties when he knocked himself off.

MRS. SCHAELCHLIN: We may have an obituary for him, and if not, I can trace it down in the paper. I am not sure whether you answered me or not, what -- you said he painted both portraits and scenes.

MR. HOOPER: Equally.

MRS. SCHAELCHLIN: Equally? Did he ever paint in any medium other than oils?

MR. HOOPER: I never saw anything in his work other than that.

MRS. SCHAELCHLIN: And you say his wife passed away fairly recently?

MR. HOOPER: Yeah, about -- this year, I think.

MRS. SCHAELCHLIN: Now, we have had one man come into the office who apparently has purchased some of his paintings.

MR. HOOPER: No, he purchased Marie Adkins' home, and in Marie Adkins' home were some of his paintings, quite a few of them, of Marie and other things. By the way, Carolus borrowed -- I eventually bought the mandola from Tony that I played, and I lent it to Carolus and he used it for a model and made it beeautiful, and then he used my mandolin to make another one for Marie Adkins. And he was an excellent man with his hands, because both those instruments are as good as any you could ever get. And I still have and I still play Tony's old mandola.

MRS. SCHAELCHLIN: Is there any other things that you would like to have on record about Carolus?

MR. HOOPER: I think that this would be a good time to pick up his paintings if you can find any, because nobody's going to throw them away. And I think they would be a good investment.

MRS. SCHAELCHLIN: Thank you very much, John. And I would like to talk with you as time goes by about other artists, including yourself. Thank you very much.

We are currently purchasing work by Carolus Verhaeren. Please contact us by e-mail or reach us by phone at 858-454-6610 if you have work which you would like to sell.

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