Artist John Paul Burnham

See Agua Caliente Villa for our postcard by the artist.

According to the very helpful website AskArt, which we’ve accessed before for research, “John Paul Burnham was born in Illinois on August 14, 1883. John Paul was the son of architect Franklin Burnham, and a resident of Los Angeles by 1900. By 1910 he had a home in South Pasadena and was a magazine illustrator. He worked there as an artist until his death on Feb. 8, 1956.

Census records show that John Paul’s mother’s first name was Adelia. From this we find the marriage record showing that Franklin P. Burnham married Adelia S. Milliken on January 29, 1877 in Cook County, Illinois. Franklin was about age 23, and Adelia about age 20. The 1880 Federal Census taken in Chicago shows the young family with one year old daughter, Jenni, living with head of household Paul (this would be grandfather to John Paul) and Paul’s daughter Mary Orcutt, (Franklin’s sister) her husband, William, and their daughter May. Franklin Pierce Burnham (1853-1909) became a well-known architect, and is listed here under that occupation. The 1900 Federal Census taken in Los Angeles shows Franklin, Adelia, Jennie and John Paul (age 17.)

By 1908, at about age 25, John was listed as having joined the staff of The Art Students League of Los Angeles, teaching illustration and composition.

The 1910 Federal Census for Pasadena, California shows he is living with his mother (widowed) and his aunt, Grace Milliken. John is working as an artist for a magazine.

By 1918, Burnham had moved to the East Coast. His WWI Draft Registration card shows he was living in New York City and working as an art manager and artist at the ad agency Ruthrauff & Ryan. (On this record he gives his year of birth as 1882, rather than the 1883 stated above which shows up officially under the California Death Index.)

Though it’s unclear when John Paul Burnham moved back to California (1920 census not found) it seems that he became best known for being part of and supporter of the “Smoketree School” of artists. According to a magazine article by Ann Japenga, John Paul Burnham was one of 27 artists who lived and painted in the Coachella Valley, California area. (“Where did they live?” being a general question posed when one is interested in an artist, musician, author, etc. Burnham’s address was 147 S. Tahquitz Dr., Palm Springs, circa late 1920s.) When Japenga started writing about the desert artists of the early 1900s, she coined the phrase for their genre as being of the “Smoketree School” in the way that the Hudson River, New York area artists became known under that geographical heading, or that art critics referred to the “Eucalyptus School” because of the Eucalyptus tree being a popular subject for the California coast artists. (The smoke tree or bush is part of the native California desert vegetation, and has various shades of “smoky” pink flowers that bloom from June through August, with the leaves changing color to shades of orange, red and purple in autumn.) John Paul Burnham, according to one of two Japenga articles, was better known as a patron to the local artists. Among others in the desert art community were Agnes Pelton, R. Brownell McGrew, John Hilton, Axel Linus, just to name a few. See the prior post on our Laurel Cottage site for a beautiful example (albeit from a postcard) of Burnham’s work that he did in Tijuana, Mexico.

The 1930 Federal Census taken in Pasadena shows a John Burnham, occupation artist, as a “guest” at the grand and exclusive Hotel Huntington. (Estimated date of birth 1887 but this is John because the AskArt website shows a Burnham painting of the Huntington.)

The 1940 Federal Census shows him living in Los Angeles and occupation as Artist and Teacher (painting.)

Update:  We had a recent inquiry on this artist on Comments and went looking for any photos of him. (Didn’t find any, though this was not a completely exhaustive search.) This news clipping, dated October 14, 1909, caught my eye though. “Angeleno” was a new term to me – per the content, meaning from Los Angeles:

Sources:  “John Paul Burnham.” AskArt. Web accessed 21 Aug 2014 []

“Illinois, Cook County Marriages, 1871-1920,” index, FamilySearch ( : accessed 23 Aug 2014), Franklin P. Burnham and Adelia S. Milliken, 29 Jan 1877; citing Cook, Illinois, , Cook County Courthouse, Chicago; FHL microfilm 1030100.

Franklin Pierce Burnham. n.d. Web accessed 23 Aug 2014. []

Year: 1900; Census Place: Los Angeles Ward 5, Los Angeles, California; Roll: 89; Page: 5B; Enumeration District: 0050; FHL microfilm: 1240089. (

“A Seed of Moderism:  The Art Students League of Los Angeles, 1906 – 1953.” Traditional Fine Arts Organization. Feb. 29, 2008. Web accessed 22 Aug 2014 []

Year: 1910; Census Place: South Pasadena, Los Angeles, California; Roll: T624_87; Page: 2B; Enumeration District: 0347; FHL microfilm: 1374100. (

Registration State: New York; Registration County: New York; Roll: 1765791; Draft Board: 105. (

Japenga, Ann. “Where Artists Thrived” Palm Springs Life. Web accessed 22 Aug 2014. []

Brown, Renee, “History:  Early artists captured beauty of valley desert.” The Desert Sun. July 17, 2014. Web accessed 21 Aug 2014. []

Japenga, Ann. “The Smoketree School:  Painters Respond to the Call of the Desert.” Palm Springs Life. Web accessed 24 Aug 2014 []

Year: 1930; Census Place: Pasadena, Los Angeles, California; Roll: 169; Page: 16B; Enumeration District: 1250; Image: 396.0; FHL microfilm: 2339904. (

“United States Census, 1940,” index and images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 24 Aug 2014), John P Burnham, Councilmanic District 5, Los Angeles, Los Angeles Township, Los Angeles, California, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) 60-326, sheet 61B, family 557, NARA digital publication of T627, roll 402.

“Angeleno Boys Saved From Steamer Wreck.” Los Angeles Evening Express, October 14, 1909. Thursday, p. 18. (

2 thoughts on “Artist John Paul Burnham

  1. I would be interested in any photos of John Paul Burnham. I have a class photo of students from the Art Student’s League of New York (1905), with John Burnham’s signature on the back, and I would like to try to identify John in the photo by comparison with other photos.

    Thanks in advance!

    • Hi Joan, I’m not seeing any photos of the artist in a quick online search, and no doubt you’ve already done the same. But, there’s always the chance someone will see this post who does happen to have a photo. Maybe a family member. I’ll email you, as I dig into this a little for you. Anne

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