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Oliveira, Nathan

Photo of Nathan Oliveira seated at easel

Nathan Oliveira

Chuck Painter / Stanford News Service
Art & Art History
Oral History Project: 
Arts at Stanford
Humburg, Judee
Interview Year: 
Oral History Type: 


Nathan Oliveira was a leading artist in the Bay Area figurative movement and a professor of art at Stanford University for 32 years.  Born in Oakland, California in 1928 to Portuguese immigrant parents, Oliveira studied art at Mills College in 1950 and at the California College of Arts and Crafts. He graduated with a BFA in 1951 and an MFA in 1952. From 1952 to 1953, and from 1955 to 1956, Oliveira taught at the California College of Arts and Crafts. He also taught at the Richmond Art Center and at San Francisco's Art Institute. In 1959, Oliveira’s work was included in the exhibition “New Images of Man” at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.  In 1963, the University of California, Los Angeles mounted a show of his paintings and works on paper.

In 1964 Oliveira joined the faculty of the Department of Art and Art History at Stanford University. In 1988, Oliveira became the first faculty member to hold the Ann O'Day Maples Professorship in the Arts at Stanford. He retired in 1996. Nathan Oliveira died on November 13, 2010 at his Stanford home. He was 81.

His awards include a Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation grant (1957), a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship (1958), and a National Endowment for the Arts grant (1974). In 1994, Oliveira was elected a fellow in the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. In 1999, he received the Commander of the Order of Henry the Navigator from the president of Portugal, awarded to individuals who have expanded Portuguese culture and history. His art has been exhibited in cities all over the world, including New York, Washington DC, San Francisco, London, Yokohama, Melbourne, Paris, and Stockholm.

About the Interview:

The Stanford Historical Society Oral History Program conducted two oral history interviews with artist Nathan Oliveira in January and May 2009.  Stanford alumna and society volunteer, Judee Humburg, was the interviewer.  In the interviews, Nathan Oliveira discusses his career at Stanford, which began in 1964 with an invitation from Lorenz Eitner, then chair of the Stanford art department. He describes the department at the time of his arrival and discusses its growth. He talks about lobbying Eitner to bring artists like Frank Lobdell to the studio art faculty and introducing Eitner to Nathan Cummings. Cummings subsequently donated funds to construct the Cummings Art Building, the centralized home of both studio art and art history at Stanford until 2015.

Oliveira discusses Stanford art students and their impact on his own artistic work. He describes teaching drawing with a technique he called the “bundle” project, and he discusses printmaking with lithography and monotyping. Regarding his teaching philosophy, Oliveira stresses developing personal vision and an artistic attitude and evolving one’s own sensibilities and ways of seeing over time. Oliveira discusses various inspirations for his work—the academic community at Stanford, walking the Stanford foothills with his family, his garden, the flight of birds, especially kestrels, and the accidental comment from a friend who told him about the Windhover poem.  Oliveira comments on his extended and continuing “noodling” with many of the paintings in the Windhover series.  Oliveira also talks about drawing sessions with Frank Lobdell and Keith Boyle, sometimes with Leo Holub there photographing their work.

Interview Excerpts:

Stanford and the Windhover Paintings

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