Painter, Printmaker, Designer, Teacher, 1895-1982


Glenn Wessels was born in South Africa, and settled with his family in California, where he attended elementary grades and high school. He entered the University as a premedical student, but dropped out during World War I to work in the oilfields then developing in Coalinga. At the end of the war, Wessels began the pursuit of his true interest--creative expression--by entering the College of Arts and Crafts and earned a B.A. degree. His interest in esthetics led him to the University in 1924 as a psychology major. Here he became a friend of Professor Worth Ryder who had introduced a modern approach to painting, emphasizing abstract relational qualities. Upon Ryder's recommendation, he left for Germany to undertake study in painting with Hans Hofmann at his school in Munich.

When Hofmann accepted Ryder's invitation to teach at the University in 1930, he asked Glenn to act as his interpreter. They traveled together on a lecture tour from Paris to Berkeley, where Wessels once again became associated with the campus as Hofmann's assistant.

With the advent of the Great Depression in the 1930s, Wessels was appointed a Bay Area technical supervisor for the WPA Federal Arts Project. In this capacity, most of his time was required for the supervision of projects assigned to community artists in painting, sculpture, and graphics; however, he found time to continue his own creative work and executed a series of large-scale murals for the Laguna Honda Hospital in San Francisco. He was always a tremendously energetic person and, during this same period, helped produce a review magazine, The Fortnightly, and write a weekly column of art criticism for the once famous Argonaut.

Wessel's teaching career began in the Bay Area, where he offered classes at Mills College, the College of Arts and Crafts, the San Francisco Academy of Advertising Art, and then Northwestern University. He was a member of the faculty at Washington State College when he was invited to return to Berkeley to accept appointment to the Art Department in 1946.

In his tenure of 27 years, he brought a vast knowledge of the nature of art materials and techniques and of the principles of creative expression to his teaching. His painting and graphics won numerous awards and entered many public and private collections. His interest in photography as an art form led Ansel Adams to request his services as an advisor on composition at Adams' atelier in Yosemite.

The murals which Wessels had painted for the Laguna Honda Hospital in the 1930s were "rediscovered" in 1981 when the hospital was being refurbished. Mayor Feinstein issued a proclamation in his honor; his many friends, admirers, and former students took the occasion to acclaim him.

Source: Karl A. Kasten, W. Foster, John C. Haley, Richard O'Hanlon, Allan Temko, UC Berkeley


Modern Art West