¡Viva Señor Chesley Bonestell!
By Ron Miller
Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated from September 15 to October 15. Meant to recognize and honor the histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America, it was created by President Ronald Reagan in 1988. The starting date of this unique “month” was chosen because it’s the anniversary of independence for Latin American countries Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, while Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence days on September 16 and September 18, respectively. Citizens of Hispanic heritage have a long history of contributing to American science, literature and the arts, from motion pictures, the stage, architecture, music, dance and the fine arts. One American artist who was proud of his Hispanic heritage was space artist Chesley Bonestell (1888-1986).
Photo: Robert E. David                                                   
Chesley Bonestell in his studio in Carmel, CA
Chesley’s family roots trace back to Mexico and further back to Spain. Young Chesley’s mother, Jovita Ferrer, was one of the fifteen children of Manuel Y. Ferrer, a prominent musician who was considered to be one of the best virtuoso guitarists in America. Manuel was born in Baja Sur California (Mexico) to parents who had emigrated from Spain.
Manuel Y. Ferrer- Chesley’s maternal grandfather, was born in Mexico
Chesley, unfortunately, never really got to know his mother. Jovita developed pneumonia after falling overboard during a yachting party and died when Chesley was nine months old.
Chesley’s mother- Jovita Ferrer Bonestell
Chesley, and his sisters, Blanche and Lura, were raised by their father, Chesley Sr., and grandfather, Louis Bonestell, along with the help of other relatives.
The Bonestell children circa 1890-95: Chesley (lower left), Blanche and Lura
Jovita’s godfather had been General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo (1807-1890). Chesley’s own godfather was Eusebius J. Molera (1846-1932).  Besides being a military commander, a town founder and politician, Molera had once been arguably the most powerful man in northern California. After the United States took over California in 1848, he worked on the state constitution and became a member of the first legislature. He was adamant in his efforts to preserve the history of Spanish and Mexican California.
General Mariano Vallejo
Eusebius Molera

“The Ferrers, Vallejos, and Moleras,” Bonestell wrote later, “were close friends. At my baptism, Mr. Molera presented me with a silver porringer (a shallow bowl with a handle), but it was lost in the 1906 earthquake and fire. Mr. Molera did not assiduously pursue his duties as godfather, however, as I did not see him again for 26 years, until I happened to sit opposite him at a dinner given for architects, painters and sculptors of the 1915 Panama Pacific Exposition. When I told him who I was, he exclaimed: ‘is this the little baby who was baptized at the Yglesia de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe?’”

Bonestell did many paintings celebrating the history of his native San Francisco but perhaps the most personal tribute he paid to his Hispanic heritage was a series of more than twenty paintings in which he meticulously recreated classic California missions as they would have looked in their heyday. Twenty-one of them are found in the book, “The Golden Era of the Missions, 1769-1834,” with a text by historian, Paul C. Johnson. 
Mission San Jose painted by Chesley Bonestell circa 1971-73
Mission San Miguel Arcangel painted by Chesley Bonestell circa 1971-73

Before he passed away in 1986, Chesley Bonestell expressed his desire that these paintings be kept together in one collection. He also wanted them to remain in California and displayed where the public could see them. He even built special velvet-lined, wooden boxes to store them until that happened.. The collection was eventually acquired at auction by Bonestell enthusiast Brad Paul, who gifted them to the California Historical Society in 2018. Fellow enthusiast Gerson Smoger donated additional funding for necessary cleaning and preservation. Plans are being made by the California Historical Society to display these remarkable paintings to the public sometime in the near future.

You can find out more about Chesley Bonestell by watching the award-winning film, Chesley Bonestell: A Brush With The Future. It’s the only documentary ever made about the life and works of this remarkable artist and architect. This film is available to stream and for purchase on DVD and Blu-ray. All versions include subtitles in Spanish and in French. For more information, please click on the image below.

Copyright © 2021 Chesley Bonestell: A Brush With The Future, All rights reserved.

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