Conrad Buff (1886 - 1975)


Conrad Buff was born on January 15, 1886 in Speicher, Switzerland. From the time he was in grade school, Buff demonstrated an interest in art as he began to spend his spare time sketching. Noticing his determination, one of his teachers encouraged him to pursue art and music. As a result, early on in his life, Buff was confident that he wanted to become an artist. However, unable to convince his parents to send him to an art school, he was given a job as an apprentice baker and confectioner at the age of 14.

After finally reaching a compromise with his parents, he enrolled at the School for Arts & Crafts, a state-run trade school of lace design in St. Gallen, Switzerland in 1900. Finding the work too arduous and limiting, Buff decided to leave the school in 1903. Although he was only 17 at the time, Buff moved to Munich in order to pursue his dream as an artist. In Munich, he was finally able to start painting.

Nevertheless, he soon found himself without any money and dissatisfied with the lack of opportunities in Germany. He considered leaving Germany but was not sure whether it was the right move. After learning that a former classmate whom had left to America had settled in Wyoming, Buff felt reassured that America would offer him the opportunities he was longing for. In 1905, Conrad Buff made the journey to America with a group of immigrants who, similar to him, had no money or friends waiting for them.

Without speaking a word of English, Buff found comfort settling in Wisconsin where there was a large Swiss population. In addition, he quickly recovered financially due to his hard work and determination. Still at the age of 18, Buff immediately found as a sheep herder as well as in a pastry shop. For a time, he also took on various odd jobs painting houses. Even with a full schedule, Buff managed to make time to take trips with his good friend Maynard Dixon (1875-1946) to Utah, New Mexico and Arizona, where he found inspiration for his landscape paintings.

In 1906, he made his way to California, first arriving in San Francisco. However, after finding the city in ruins as a result of the great earthquake, he decided to head south to Los Angeles. There, he worked for a time as a yard man at the Lankersheim Hotel and then as a pot washer and cook at the Westmore Hotel. Similarly, as in Wisconsin, Buff also found work as a house painter and subsequently became a contractor in Eagle Rock.

Still focused on becoming an artist, Buff attended the Art Students League of Los Angeles from 1910 to 1913, but was dissatisfied with the instruction. He then attended evening drawing classes taught by William M. Praxton (1869-1941) at Los Angeles High School. From this point forward, his dream of becoming an artist started to be realized. In 1920, Buff had his first solo-exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Moreover, he had a close relationship with Edgar Alwyn Payne (1882-1947) with whom he made camping expeditions with Franz Bischoff (1864-1929). During this time, Payne was commissioned by a Chicago Hotel to decorate its outdoor walls and invited Buff to join in on the project. The project proved to be a major turning point in Buff’s career.

Then in 1922, he married Mary Jordan Marsh who was the assistant curator at Los Angeles County Museum of Art; together, they had two sons. His wife’s income allowed him to dedicate himself to painting fulltime. After twenty years of trying to achieve his dream, Buff was finally listed as a professional artist in 1923. As a member of the California Art Club, he had yearly exhibits at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and came to be associated with its members such as William Wendt (1865-1946), Jack Wilkinson Smith (1873-1949) and Donna Schuster (1883-1953).

The 1930s proved to be a hard period for Conrad Buff, yet, with the help of a government work program, he was able to earn a living as an artist. The program lasted only 9 months, but Buff was a fast worker and was able to finish 10 works. In addition, from 1937 to 1968, Buff and his wife published children’s books that he illustrated and she wrote. Together they traveled extensively to the Southwest, Switzerland, Italy, Japan, Guatemala and Mexico, looking for inspiration for their books. Furthermore, Buff lived with his wife in Pasadena, California until he died on March 11, 1975, in Laguna Hills, California.

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