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Born in England in 1859, Sykes had a rift with his father at age 25 and left home. He then immigrated to Santa Barbara, CA where he remained. Missions were a favorite subject of his paintings; some were even done on whale vertebrae. Apparently he lived on some sort of legacy; however, during his last decade the money dried up and he lived in great poverty. He was considered eccentric, refusing to eat meat or to have electricity in his tiny house. Always dressed quite nattily in a gray suit and swinging a cane, Sykes was a familiar sight on the streets of Santa Barbara until his death in 1934.
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