Millard Sheets’s artwork is instantly recognizable to Southern Californians, even though few of them know his name. As a leading figure in “mid-century modernism,” Sheets created a distinctive aesthetic style best represented by the scores of buildings he and his team designed for Home Savings Bank—buildings strewn across the United States but concentrated primarily in the Los Angeles area. He and his colleagues decorated these sleek, travertine-covered temples with gorgeous mosaics depicting historical and mythological scenes celebrating California culture, particularly the industry and farming that made the Golden State prosper.
Today, two decades after Home Savings’s closure, many of these works have been painted over or demolished, which makes art historian Adam Arenson’s lavishly illustrated Banking on Beauty: Millard Sheets and Midcentury Commercial Architecture in California especially welcome. Arenson has painstakingly cataloged Sheets’s murals and preserved the tale of how he and banking magnate Howard Ahmanson created some of the 20th century’s loveliest public art. . . .