Arthur Mathews was a painter, muralist, illustrator, architect, teacher, publisher, and craftsman. Along with his wife, Lucia, who was also an artist, he is credited today with creating the California decorative style, which in painting and furniture combined elements of European Art Nouveau, classical antiquity, and California trees, flowers, and locales.
Born in 1860 in Markesan, Wisconsin, Mathews came to Oakland, California, with his family at age six. As a teenager, he worked in his father’s architectural office, but enrolled at the California School of Design where he studied painting. In 1885, he went to Paris and studied at the Académie Julian. Upon his return to San Francisco in 1889, he began teaching at the California School of Design and soon became the school’s director.
After the earthquake and fire of 1906 destroyed the school and ended his teaching career, Mathews teamed up with John Zeile, a local businessman and art patron, to establish the Furniture Shop. Under the artistic direction of Mathews and Lucia, the shop produced carved and painted furniture, picture frames, and other decorative pieces. Mathews also edited a magazine, Philopolis, devoted to the artistic aspects of the rebuilding of San Francisco.