Lawrence Hinckley was the oldest of Ira and Kate Hinckley's two children, born in 1900, four years before his sister, Hattie Mae. His artistic talents were manifested early and while his parents might have preferred him going into a more steady line of work, he enrolled in the newly opened Otis Art institute in Los Angeles. Over the next few years he plied his craft in Santa Barbara and Ojai.
1916 Card to his Cruson Grandparents
In June of 1936 at the Fillmore Presbyterian Church, Lawrence married Mildred Coombs of Santa Paula. Mildred was a reporter and columnist for the Santa Paula Chronicle. She continued to write columns for the Chronicle through at least 1945.
Mildred Coombs Hinckley on her wedding day, 1936
At first they lived in a small beach house, but Mildred knew this was not practical for the long term. One day while visiting Mom and Dad Hinckley (Ira and Kate), she noticed a derelict barn on the two acres the Hinckley's owned off First St. The idea struck her that the barn could be converted into a home and studio. Her enthusiasm for the idea carried the day and by the fall, the newlyweds had a new home and Fillmore had an art gallery. The gallery would open on November 21, 1936 and be a landmark on Bard Street in Fillmore until 1961. Throughout its run, internationally known artists would visit the gallery as well as regular tourist buses which would stop on their way between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara.
Mildred and Lawrence in the window of the Artists' Barn
During World War II, they essentially closed the Artists' Barn and Lawrence went to work for Douglas Aircraft heading a team or artists who did charts and technical drawings.
After the war, the Artists' Barn was again a Mecca for artists and art lovers but the Hinckley's expanded into ceramics. Some of the items were purely decorative, while others were also practical items like spoon rests or scissor holders.
Gathering at the Artists' Barn
One unusual item they made was Fundo the Elephant who was commissioned by the Republican's Women's Club of Santa Barbara. As Mildred Hinckley in her book "The Artists Barn", "The result was a cuddly little elephant about six inches long and half as high, with a tummy fat enough to hold a lot of dimes and quarters. His name was "Fundo"…On his white back was printed in red and blue, "Peace, Prosperity, and G.O.P." Production of Fundo had just started then President Eisenhower suffered a heart attack. The Club requested that Fundo be sent to the President in the hospital. Lawrence personally decorated on, adding the usual inscription "For Ike" and "Get Well Soon." I wrapped Ike's Fundo and mailed it to the hospital.
Fundo the Elephant
Mildred went on to write, "On the morning of November 11, Lawrence was downtown and stopped in a café for a cup of coffee….When he opened the Los Angeles Examiner and started reading the lead story under a double column headline he nearly spilled his drink. It read in part, " ...... all during his illness, it was revealed, [President Eisenhower] has been persuading visitors to his eighth-floor hospital room to put something into his personally sponsored kitty, an elephant made of crockery with a slot for the deposit of money….."
All the while the Artists' Barn was operating, Lawrence continued to paint and draw. Many local homes and businesses displayed his art work. He was especially know for his landscapes and for portraits of colorful characters.
In 1961 the Artists' Barn finally closed. Lawrence continued his painting and Mildred became even more involved than she had been with the Church of Religious Science. She was the founding minister of the Fillmore Church of Religious Science and was pivotal in the construction of their building on River Street. In recognition for her work she was awarded an honorary doctorate by Religious Science International.
Lawrence passed away in 1987 and Mildred in 1995. They were survived by their son, William, who is a professor of education and two grandchildren. The Artists' Barn was sold and is now a private home.
If you would like to see some of Lawrence's artwork, please visit the Hinckley House at the Fillmore Historical Museum when we reopen. A few of the Artists' Barn ceramics are for a sale in the Museum Gift Shop.