During the period between the two world wars, Charleston, South Carolina, emerged as a mecca for northern artists. One of the first to arrive was Alfred Hutty, invited by the Carolina Art Association to teach classes at the Gibbes Memorial Art Gallery. Others followed, including George Biddle, Edward Hopper, and Andrée Ruellan. Through letters, word of mouth, and works of art, the charms of the historic city were widely disseminated, fueling a burgeoning tourist industry. In 1934, twenty-two year old Palmer Schoppe made a southern tour; he later recalled: “It was in the depth of the ‘Great Depression’—We were cold & decided to run away south for 3-4 weeks to see the sun & get warm—We ended up in Charleston, fell in love with the city.”

James Palmer Schoppe was born on the family farm near Woods Cross, Utah, and at the age of eight he moved to Santa Monica. He spent one year at  the University of Southern California before joining the Merchant Marine for several months, and then attended the Yale School of Fine Arts in the summer of 1930. Upon the recommendation of an instructor he went to New York City to study under Thomas Hart Benton and Jean Charlot at the Art Students League. While in New York, he indulged in his passion for music by frequenting jazz clubs in Harlem. 

Returning to Southern California in 1934 by way of New Orleans and South Carolina, Schoppe converted his sketches and memories of his visit to Charleston to a series of ten lithographs which he published as Carolina Low Country portfolio. Many of the images show long, lanky figures, similar to those found in Benton’s work, while others reflect the influence of traditional African art. He respected the Gullah culture and superstitions he encountered when he visited Wadmalaw Island; according to him “everyone was desperately poor…found black and white people to be hospitable…no feeling of being an outsider/foreign/being white.” He began a career in teaching at the Chouinard Art Institute in 1935–1942, and taught animation for Walt Disney Studios during 1934–1937. During World War II he served with the United States Signal Corps. He was an instructor at the Art Center School from 1945–1953 and subsequently joined the staff of the motion picture and television department of UCLA, where he remained for the next twenty-two years.

Music and entertainment were always Schoppe’s passion, and the subjects of his paintings and murals reflect this keen interest. Correspondingly, his compositions are colorful, sometimes exotic and slightly risqué, perhaps appropriate to some of the venues where his murals can be found: Caesar’s Palace and MGM Grand in Las Vegas; the Playboy Club in Atlantic City; and racetracks in Maryland, New York, and California. Somewhat self-consciously he justified his work:  “It seems fairly certain that my work is not ‘art about art,’ but art that is a reaction to a given stimulus. These are ‘subject’ pictures in that they are definitely in response to a certain place, type of people, cultures and customs.”