Rollin Pickford



Rollin Alfonso Pickford, Jr. born in Fresno, California on May 23rd


Rollin is chosen to participate in Stanford University’s Terman Study of Gifted Children, a lifelong commitment. At age eight, he decides to become an artist.


Rollin begins his art studies at Fresno State College and finishes at Stanford, graduating in 1933.


Rollin begins work at Fresno Photoengraving as a graphic illustrator. There he meets an important mentor, Lanson H. Crawford. The two artists begin painting watercolors on weekends.

Watercolor by Tom Valiant


Rollin meets Tom Valiant, his most important mentor. The two begin painting often, sharing ideas and books about art.

Late 1940s

Rollin paints first mature watercolors, wins the first of many awards, begins selling his work.


Rollin marries Glenna Ruth Pipes, whose lifelong support of his work will be a major factor in his success.


Rollin begins experimenting with a wide range of techniques, materials, and styles to become more prolific. Tom Valiant dies in 1951. Rollin begins mentoring younger painters, including Robin Gay McCline and Ara F. ‘Corky’ Normart. His mentoring of younger artists continues for the rest of his career.

Rollin illustrates stories by William Saroyan for Ford Times and Lincoln Mercury Times magazines.


Rollin paints larger size watercolors that are often abstract or experimental in technique. He also begins painting occasional oil canvases. Rollin teaches part-time at Fresno State College and studies sculpture with Adolf Odorfer. His first one-person watercolor exhibition is mounted at the Fresno Art Museum. Critic Bette Tambling names him Painter Laureate of the San Joaquin Valley. A Pickford watercolor, Pastures of Winter, wins the nation’s most prestigious watercolor award in 1963.


A major stylistic change occurs in Rollin’s work. Abandoning the dark, opaque pigments of his 1960s watercolors, his new paintings are luminous, soft, and transparent. Rollin’s productivity and sales of his work increase dramatically as he retires from commercial illustration work. He continues to produce occasional large canvas works, switching from oil to acrylics.


Fueled by continued growth in sales of his work, Rollin makes several painting trips to Europe and the Eastern United States. Rollin’s memoir of his time working with William Saroyan is published on two full pages of the Fresno Bee.


Rollin and Glenna spend more time on California’s Central Coast. Rollin experiments with new types of papers and techniques.

The Press at California State University Fresno publishes California Light: The Watercolors of Rollin Pickford, the first art book ever to combine digital reproduction with hexachrome printing.


Valley Public Television premieres Master of Light: The Life and Watercolors of Rollin Pickford in 2000. Directed by the artist’s son, Joel Pickford, the hour-long documentary airs in more than 40 broadcast markets nationwide.

In the fall of 2004, Rollin suffers a complete loss of sight and is unable to continue painting. He dies on September 26, 2010.

Watch the PBS Documentary Film

Master of Light: The Life and Watercolors of Rollin Pickford