The Columbia Years
1937-1946 – Initial visits to Columbia
Surendorf made the first of many painting excursions from his studio in San Francisco to Columbia and the Mother Lode Country. Most of the original sketches for later block-prints were made at this time. These prints, aside from their aesthetic value, now have an authentic historical significance. They depict the mood and face of the village as it remained from the time of the early miners. In the later decades of the 20th century, most of the buildings in Columbia were renovated and repainted. They no longer express the character and elusive charm previously bestowed by the touch of time.
1946 - Refuge and settling in Columbia
After terminating a short and unsuccessful marriage, as well as a twenty year period of excessive drinking, Surendorf sought an isolated locality which would provide ample painting material. He naturally chose Columbia for his home and gallery. For an income, he organized the Mother Lode Art School, as there were few visitors to the region at this time. Hassel Smith, another San Francisco artist, assisted in the venture, which soon petered out because of inadequate housing for students.
1947 – A new gallery and New Orleans
Surendorf moved his gallery from the entrance of town to an old building on State Street, which also served as his studio and home. At this time, and for several years, he made frequent excursions to New Orleans for block-print sketches, which were developed into a prize winning series of prints at his Columbia studio.
1949 – A growing family
Surendorf Married Barbara, then assistant curator of the City of Paris Rotunda Art Gallery in San Francisco. They had three children: Charles III, Stephanie, and Cindy. He also had a daughter, Karla, by his first marriage. Surendorf supported the entire family solely on the sale of his art work, a notable and practically unheard of accomplishment in this age of plastics and materialism. Relying on his art explains why he was such a prolific painter.
1961 – The State moves in
Reconstruction of the former home, studio, and gallery was completed, and two-thirds of the structure, formerly housing the gallery, was rented by the State Beaches & Parks Dept. to set up a curio shop. The Dept. offered Surendorf a small room on a side street for the Mother Lode Art Gallery. He accepted his new location after Governor Brown assured him the state would provide a larger location on Main Street when buildings were available.
1962 – Focus on art
Surendorf devoted more and more time to his painting and block-prints, and transferring the care of the gallery to his wife. He completed a new series of black and white nude studies and a collection of oil and watercolor portraits.
1967 – Eviction!
And popularity! Columbia was becoming more and more like Disneyland, a tourist destination of the Mother Lode gold mining days. The State decided to control the retailers in town and mandated a dress code of old miners’ apparel for the men, and old fashion dresses for the women. Surendorf favored his walking shorts, sandals, and white cotton shirts; he refused to change. The State evicted him from his downtown studio, resulting in more publicity than the town had ever had experienced! Surendorf fought the State's decision in court, but lost. He moved his studio to his home on Maiden Lane, and people came from all over the county to meet the Artist who had the guts to stand up to the State. Needless to say, his art work sold ten fold!
1968 – A Dark Time
Surendorf's second marriage ended after he returned to drinking. His family split up, except for his youngest daughter, Cindy, who demanded the court let her stay with her father in Columbia. An unprecedented decision by the court to let her stay was made, and she kept his studio open during his dark days.
1972 – New Zealand
Surendorf went to New Zealand to continue his art adventures. His love for that country was deep, so he returned often.
1974 – Phone adventures
Writing books, poems, and love letters were the activity of Surendorf during this time. He should have owned stock in Pacific Bell, because the use of his telephone was his way of communicating with the public. He often called the White House, the State Capitol, various European countries, and always his friend Herb Caen at the San Francisco Chronicle.