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History of Mary Porter Sesnon

April 12 – May 12, 2018
receptions TBA

How Did Mary Porter Sesnon influence Santa Cruz County?

This exhibition at UCSC’s Sesnon Art Gallery will celebrate  the life of Mary Porter Sesnon and her influences on the arts in Santa Cruz County.  Mary Porter Sesnon's sketches and water colors from her historic scrapbook will be on display, along with paintings by great-granddaughter Molly Porter Cliff Hilts (Porter College ’81) and the work of other family members. Prominent California historian Sandy Lydon, professor emeritus of History at Cabrillo College, will be contributing an essay on the history of Mary Porter Sesnon.  The gallery will also host a series of salons during the 4-week exhibition including events at the historic Sesnon House (Pino Alto) in Aptos.

Mary Porter and William T. Sesnon's salons, held at Pino Alto (Sesnon House) from 1911 to 1926, were extravagant gatherings that lasted for days. The guests included patrons and artists as well as thespians, who sometimes performed on the stage off the grand living room. Original music scores, poetry, and prose from the scrapbook will be on display. The guests were given pages on which they could draw or paint, write poetry or limericks. 

In the scrapbook we found signatures of such dignitaries as Herbert Hoover and his wife, Lee Henry Hoover; John McLaren, the landscape architect for Golden Gate Park and for the grounds at Pino Alto; and of foreign dignitaries visiting during San Francisco's 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition. Mary Porter Sesnon was on the women's committee for the exposition, and William T. Sesnon was instrumental in arranging for a number of foreign dignitaries to attend.

History of Porter College from Porter College website:

Porter College is named in honor of the grandfather of three University of California benefactors: Porter Sesnon, Barbara Sesnon Cartan and William T. Sesnon. Benjamin F. Porter and his cousin George moved to California from New Hampshire in the 1850’s, at the suggestion of another cousin, John Porter, who was a resident of Soquel in the 1840’s and later Sheriff of Santa Cruz County. The Porter cousins traveled by sea to Panama and walked the Isthmus to the Pacific Ocean before sailing up the coast to California.

After settling in Santa Cruz, Benjamin Porter purchased a small parcel of land containing a tannery in the area now known as Porter Gulch. By 1870, he had acquired more land and built a family home. That same year, he became founding director of County Bank of Santa Cruz. In 1896, Benjamin Porter’s only surviving child, Mary Sophia, married William T. Sesnon, a native of Alameda who later became Deputy Sheriff of the State of California.

The Porter-Sesnon family has always been a generous supporter of UC Santa Cruz and its mission. In 1968, a gift from Barbara Sesnon Cartan established the Mary Porter Sesnon Art Gallery, in memory of her mother. Other gifts have provided scholarships and grants for Porter undergraduates.

It was the extraordinary gift of nearly seventy acres of Porter-Sesnon land that created the endowment that the College now enjoys—in gratitude for which the College, which was founded in 1969 as College Five, was renamed Porter College on November 21, 1981.