Painting on the rocky coastline at Lands End, San Francisco, 1915.

The Legacy Project

Tilden Daken’s Granddaughter is Preserving His Legacy

A famous painter in his day, his art is revered by thousands of collectors, yet most know little about his past. He was an enigma even to his family until Bonnie Portnoy, the granddaughter he never knew, began to unravel his mysteries. He has been gone for more than seven decades and now his amazing stories are being brought to the forefront. The passionate artist often trekked into the wilderness on extended painting expeditions, leaving his wife and two young daughters to fend for themselves (Bonnie’s grandmother, mother, and aunt). While her mother was still living, Bonnie embarked on a decade-long journey to find her grandfather’s paintings and explore his past. Having unearthed a treasure trove of material, she is writing a book (as yet unpublished).

A Book is in the Works

Tilden Daken; The Man Beneath the Paint is a richly illustrated historical non-fiction art book, the biography of Tilden Daken (1876–1935), the noted California Impressionist. Set in the cultural and historical context of his time–California at the turn of the 20th century–the book dramatizes the many intriguing, little-known sides of the artist and the extremes he endured to capture his scenes on canvas: his experience in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake; his friendship with Jack London; his adventures while painting beneath the sea in a custom-built diving bell; the renegade who stands with Pancho Villa during the Mexican Revolution to secure a Mexican exhibit at the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition; his intrepid winters painting in the High Sierra; his South Seas expedition with anthropologist Andrew Blackiston to paint the headhunters of New Guinea; his innate display of synesthesia during his Hollywood years when he painted to music in the “key of red,” and much more.  Art historian Edan Hughes said Daken’s story is “long overdue.” Editor Elissa Rabellino wrote: “This all couldn’t possibly have happened to one person! It’s just fascinating.” And Tilden Daken once said of his experiences: “The actual is more astounding than the imaginary.”

Based on unique and true experiences the likes of which no other painter of his day achieved, his story is an accurate portrayal of events as chronicled in hundreds of newspaper articles from 1898 to 1935. It characterizes the artist’s personal struggles as revealed in letters he wrote to public figures and reveals the many notable individuals with whom he mingled—politicians, activists, Hollywood celebrities, naturalists, writers, journalists, and other California Impressionists.  His two known autobiographical short stories are featured in the book: “Experiences in the Rugged West” and “In the Grip of an Octopus.”

About Bonnie Portnoy

A native Californian born in Marin County, Bonnie held senior management positions in merchandising, marketing, and operations for four respected San Francisco Bay Area-based specialty retail companies, and traveled extensively in Europe, Asia, and India. As art historian for her grandfather, she has established the Tilden Daken Legacy Project, leading her to art historians and authors, museum curators, galleries, and the many passionate collectors who have joined in her mission to secure his place in history.


Bonnie would like to hear from you! Would you like to have your painting featured in the book?

Tell me about your Tilden Daken painting or ask me questions about the artist.

Write to Bonnie:

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January 2016:

"Sonoma's Depot Park Museum takes visitors back in time." Santa Rosa Press Democrat reporter, Dianne Reber Hart, writes about “A Brush with the Past,” an exhibition of works by Sonoma County artists including Tilden Daken. His granddaughter, Bonnie Portnoy, presented a lecture at the museum about his life and art.

"Sylvia Crawford shares the latest news from Glen Ellen."  Sonoma Index-Tribune reporter writes about “A Brush with the Past:” "Among the artful offerings in that show is Tilden Dakin’s beautiful view of Sonoma Creek in Glen Ellen. Long one of my favorite historical paintings, I bet posters of that piece would sell wildly in our town."

"A Brush with the Past at Sonoma's Depot Museum."  A review by Sonoma Valley Sun of Tilden Daken's life and his works exhibited in "A Brush with the Past."

May 2014: 

Glen Ellen Historical Society chooses a Tilden Daken Glen Ellen painting as its avatar on their Facebook page.

September 2013: 

A retrospective on Tilden Daken in "Lines and Colors." Charley Parker,  plein air painter, webcomics artist, cartoonist, illustrator, and web site designer featured an article on Tilden Daken on his blog, "Lines and Colors."

February 2013:

"Safe Haven for Painter Daken."   Article in Sonoma County Historical Society's Sonoma Historian, contributed by granddaughter Bonnie PortnoyTilden Daken and his wife move to Glen Ellen after losing their home and the artist's studio in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and firestorm.

December 2012: 

"How Author London, Artist Daken Met."  Article in  Sonoma County Historical Society's Sonoma Historian, contributed by granddaughter Bonnie PortnoyTilden Daken and Jack London meet atop a haystack in the Reno rail yard in 1901. Together they ride a freight train over Donner Summit to Oakland, clinging to the brake-beam.

July 2012:

Save the Redwoods League displays Tilden Daken's "Stroll Through the Redwoods" as their Facebook cover photo. reporter Sylvia Crawford reports on Glen Ellen Historical Society meeting and slide show of Tilden Daken paintings.

April 2012:

Welcome to the new site, honoring the man, his spirit of adventure, and his art.
One century ago, Tilden Daken returns to San Francisco after living in Sonoma County for five years following the 1906 earthquake. Construction is underway for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition, and hundreds of international artists, including Tilden Daken, will soon be exhibiting at the Palace of Fine Arts.