Nellie Gail Moulton

Nellie Gail Moulton was a teacher, mother, wife, rancher, philanthropist and artist that lived an extraordinary life to the fullest.

She traveled the country and the world multiple times by ground, sea and air. She painted along the way.

The Moulton Museum has been collecting and preserving the original works of Nellie Gail Moulton for some time and hopes to show the depth of her work in a public exhibition in the near future.

If you own an original Nellie Gail Moulton painting and would like to sell it or make it available for photographing, please contact Jared Mathis at or call at 949-450-6285.

Nellie Gail Moulton Biography:

Nellie Maud Gail was born on December 8, 1878 in Irving, Kansas. She was a Seattle area school teacher and daughter of John Gail, who later brought the family to southern California and became the manager of El Toro Mercantile Store and postmaster for the town of El Toro. 

Lewis F. Moulton, fifty-four year old owner of Rancho Niguel, married twenty-nine year old Nellie Gail in 1908. They had two daughters, Charlotte and Louise. The Moultons established a lasting presence in Orange County with sheep and cattle ranching, and leasing land to tenant farmers, all of which were favorite subjects of California regional paintings. 

Nellie Gail Moulton was a lifetime member of the Laguna Beach Art Association (Laguna Art Museum) and served as their president from 1948-49. Her en plein air techniques were acquired from Southern California notable artists such as William Wendt, Anna Hills, Frank Cuprien, and Edgar Payne. They inspired her impressionist scenes of nature, beach landscapes, Sierra mountains, Japanese fishing villages, and Grand Canyon majestic vistas. Her sketchbooks contain many preliminary drawings of evocative and nuanced oil paintings. These drawings are paired with her fine art pieces in this retrospective exhibition on her life and artistic accomplishments. As an avid traveler, Nellie Gail viewed the world through her international voyages and captured these moments in her artwork.

Nellie Gail Moulton represents an international movement. She captured and preserved pristine nature in real time, en plein air. Nellie belongs to a larger movement of female artists who have recently gained more recognition for their commitment to the arts. Her work was recently featured at the Pasadena Museum of History in the Something Revealed; California Women Artists Emerge, 1860-1960 show curated by Maurine St. Gaudens Studios. Her philanthropy as a founding member of the Laguna College of Art & Design in 1961, the 1969 building of the Moulton Theatre for the Laguna Playhouse, and her generous endowment donation to Chapman University (which was then Chapman College), in 1973 bears fruit to this day. 

The Moulton Museum showcases some of the work that was shown in 1968 at the Laguna Beach Art Association Moulton Gallery titled, Nellie Gail Moulton Retrospective Exhibit, Oils.

Nellie Gail Moulton was named President of Laguna Beach Art Association (LBAA) from 1948-1949. LBAA was formed in August 1918 and was precursor to the Laguna Art Museum. Nellie donated funds for Moulton Hall. Nelle was a Life Member along with Mr. and Mrs. James Irvine.
Photo courtesy of OC Public Libraries.
    • Born on December 8, 1878 in Irving, Kansas. Nellie moved to Nebraska with her family during her childhood.
    • In 1885, John Lockwood Gail, age 35, Prudence Adelia Stoneman Gail, age 31, Alta Gail McHenry, age 11,   Nellie Maud Gail, age 6 years old, and Emma Stoneman, age 23, reside in Irving, Kansas.
    • In 1900, Nellie Gail moved to Omaha, Nebraska for her teaching credentials in her early 20s, likely 22, which would have been circa 1900.
    • She became a school teacher in the Seattle area in Washington in the early 1900s.
    • In 1903, Nellie visited her father, John Lockwood Gail, who was postmaster of the El Toro Post Office. He was compensated at $377.90 according to the Official Register of the United States. He owned the El Toro Mercantile Store, later the El Toro Country Store, that was located on the north side of El Toro Road near the intersection of the railroad tracks. Nellie met Lewis Fenno Moulton at this post office.
    • Lewis married Nellie Gail in 1908 and had their honeymoon in Hawaii. They had two daughters, Charlotte and Louise.
    • 1920 – “Calif. Federated Clubs 1920 Convention held in Yosemite Valley. This group picture represents the Santa Ana Calif. Ebell Club in the pageant at Yosemite where 1500 Club women attended (This note added on 1967 in my old home at 22762 Vista de Sol Laguna Beach, 40 years later).”
    •  Nellie was a member of the El Toro Women’s Club. This group was renamed Ladies’ Aid Society. They hosted social affairs and helped those in need. Nellie hosted a dinner in December 1921. 
    • 1931- Orange County celebrated Lewis F. Moulton’s fifty years in El Toro, California. Mrs. Moulton hosted this occasion on Moulton Ranch and is photographed with the founding members of this county. “Honoring Lewis F. Moulton, owner of Rancho Niguel, of El Toro, one of the most remarkable and unusual assemblages in the history of Orange county took place yesterday. Four score men, nearly all of them pioneers, gathered at the Rancho Niguel to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the arrival of Moulton in California.” from the Santa Ana Register (Santa Ana, California) 07 May 1924, Wednesday Page 13.
    • In 1934, Nellie Gail Moulton donates $1.50 to the Laguna Beach Art Association (Laguna Art Museum) fundraising campaign. Her name was inscribed into the lower gallery new building floor along with the founding members.
    • In 1938, Nellie hosted a Laguna Beach Art Association tea in the galleries with Mmes. Charles Bradley, Lloyd Seilset (Hotel Laguna owners) and William A. Griffith, which correlated with the exhibition opening from October to November. This event was featured in the Los Angeles Times on October 9, 1938, “President’s Tea This Afternoon” which was also covered in the Santa Ana Register on October 10, 1938
    • Lewis passed away in 1938. Nellie operated Moulton Ranch with her daughters until 1952.
    • In 1939, Nellie exhibited at the Festival of Arts in Laguna Beach. In 1941, Nellie chaired an exhibit that featured eighteen pieces by Orange County artists, including her own Grand Canyon piece. She also exhibited this eighteen piece traveling show for the Women’s Club, which was highlighted in the Santa Ana Register, February 12, 1941
    • Nellie is mentioned in the Santa Ana Register, January 22, 1942 as an Ebell Club Member. 
    • In 1945, the “Laguna Beach Art Association membership drive, c. 1945. From left to right: gallery curator Cecil Fern Gary, Oswell Jackson, and Nellie Gail Moulton of the Moulton Ranch, ready to sign up new members. Moulton was a forward-looking supporter of the LBBAA, chairing the membership committee, supporting the idea of a permanent art collection and fundraising for the expansion of the gallery. As realized, the expansion included a new studio for art classes and exhibitions named Moulton Hall in her honor.” 
    • In 1948 – 1949, Nellie was named president of the Laguna Beach Art Association (Laguna Art Museum). Nellie was a Life Member of LBAA and her name is inscribed in the basement flooring of the current facility along with her mentors Anna Hills and William Wendt. She donated funds for Moulton Hall, which became Moulton Gallery. This “was the first art school that became the seed for the now famous and highly successful Laguna Beach School of Art and Design, of which Mrs. Moulton is a Foundering Member.” 
    • 1953- Nellie Gail Moulton is a member of the Assistance League of Santa Ana and resided at 282A Sevilla Ave. Laguna Hills [Laguna Hills], Calif. With her number as 837-4643.
    • 1961 – Nellie helps establish the Laguna Beach School of Art (LCAD) which was established due to her involvement with the Laguna Beach Art Association. Nellie was a founder and donated $500.00.
    • 1962– Nellie was the Honorary Chairwoman for the Festival of Opera in Laguna Beach
    • 1962– South Shores Baptist Church Moulton Hall was built.
      •  South Shores Baptist Church, “the three car garage was enclosed and named ‘Moulton Hall’”
    • 1968– Laguna Beach Art Association Moulton Gallery: Nellie Gail Moulton Retrospective Exhibit, Oils.
  • In the Los Angeles Times, “Mrs. Moulton Plans Own Birthday Party,” November, 22, 1968 article, Nellie stated, “I’ve been around the world twice and done almost everything I wanted to do in my 90 years except one thing – go to college. You wouldn’t think it would still matter, but it does. It’s a bit too late for me to go back, so I established a fund to assure the youngsters in the family – 21 in all – a proper education, something I could never afford.” She said, “I’ve always been an amateur who painted for pleasure, though I did take lessons now and then. But I never signed my paintings, until this exhibit. The people at the gallery insisted.” She also said Anna was “my best instructor and a fine painter as well.”
  • 1969– Moulton Theatre opens at Laguna Playhouse
  • 1972– Nellie becomes a donor for the South Coast Community Hospital.
  • August 1972 – Nellie Gail Moulton passes away at 93 years old and is buried at Fairhaven Memorial Park in Santa Ana with Lewis in the Old Historic Mausoleum – West Hall (MEMORIAL ID 71484999).
  • 1974– Chapman College (University) Moulton Hall funds donated in Nellie’s memory.

Nellie Gail Moulton Exhibition Timeline:

Moulton, Nellie Gail (1878-1972)

“Nellie Gail Moulton Retrospective Exhibit Oils. This retrospective collection of Mrs. Moulton’s represents a thirty-five year span of interest in painting. She has studied with such notables as Anna Hills, who was instrumental in founding the Art Association in 1918, and Bennett Bradbury, who won fame as a seascape painter. Mrs. Moulton was President of the Board of Directors during 1948-1949. During this period an important expansion program was formulated in which Mrs. Moulton contributed funds to build the Moulton Hall. The Hall, later named Moulton Gallery, was the first art school that became the seed for the now famous and highly successful Laguna Beach School of Art and Design, of which Mrs. Moulton is a Founder Member.” (from Nov. 1968 LBAA cat.)

1935 08/09 39 Fishing Boats $50, p

1937 06/07 61 Rip Tide, Scotland $75, p

1937 08/09 49  Santa Anita $95

1937 10/11 15L High Tide, Pacific Shore. $100, p

1937 10/11 58 Strawberry Creek $75, p

1941 06/07 39 Grand Canyon, p

1942 06/07 47  Butte near Morro Bay, p

1943/44 12/01 05 Along Oak Creek Canyon, p

1944 04/07 Spring $100

1946 04  31 Sycamores $75

1946 10/11 17  Racetrack NFS

1968 11  OMS [nl, ni], o