Feasting with the Staprans

April 23, 2018 § Leave a comment

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Ilona and Raimonds Staprans with his biographer, Paul Karlstrom, at left.

I FOUND MYSELF in the lucky seat between Ilona and Raimonds Staprans at an intimate and artsy dinner party down the peninsula the other night. They are two fascinating people. She’s a scientist at UCSF. He’s one of California’s preeminent painters, still going strong in his 90s, and an eminent playwright in their native Latvia, where they spend a part of every year.

Raimonds Staprans is getting some of the recognition he richly deserves, with an exhibition at the San Jose Museum of Art through May 20 called “Full Spectrum.” It was seen last fall at the Crocker Museum in Sacramento, which organized the exhibition and a beautiful catalog. Even if you’ve seen his paintings, you may be surprised, as I was, by the breadth of his work over the past six decades. And the paint and light and color are luscious.

In a talk in San Jose, he described how his work flows out of his daydreams.

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Thanatopsis — Aeterna

April 16, 2018 § Leave a comment

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AETERNA VOLK IS DEAD. She did not pass! She did not fall asleep! She did not go to the great beyond! Aeterna Volk just died. She was never afraid of death, for if you are afraid of dying, you cannot love to live.

Aeterna Volk does not need a memorial or funeral service to convince herself that she truly is dead. The people who have known and loved her will memorialize her in their hearts. Those who never understood her philosophies will not be moved because she has expired.

— Final entry in a book of poems left behind by Carol Aeterna Volk

Precisionism at the deYoung

March 31, 2018 § Leave a comment

A WALK THROUGH “Cult of the Machine: Precisionism and American Art” with curator Emma Acker. The exhibition continues at the deYoung Museum in San Francisco from March 24 to August 12, 2018.

My first brush with art

March 4, 2018 § 1 Comment

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Sarah Segrest | Persimmons

SARAH SEGREST TAUGHT 7th grade English and Holmes County French. She was the first touch of culture that came into my young life as a country kid growing up in the backwoods, and my first brush with art.

At the rear of her room she had a display space for her flower arrangements, usually featuring camellias in the winter from her garden. She was an artist, and an ever-changing show of her paintings lined the walls. Plus, she had an air conditioner when no one else did — no small attraction in our farm town in the heart and the heat of the Florida Panhandle.

Mrs. Segrest was just the right combination of nurturing and challenging for 7th graders, no longer in elementary school but not quite teenagers yet. When I got to 9th grade and had her again for French class, her elevated aesthetic sensibilities became ever more obvious. French! With a southern accent.

By the time I had graduated a few times and had an opportunity to try out my French in France, I had also moved to Chicago, far from home. As I got more interested in art, I wanted something real to go along with my posters. I thought of Mrs. Segrest, and wrote her a letter asking if I could visit on my next trip back home and possibly acquire one of her paintings.

And so I did. She and Dr. Segrest lived in a secluded 10-acre woodland just south of town that was thick with hundreds of camellia bushes. Their home was filled with her paintings. I especially liked a still life of watermelons she had just finished.

“Well, you may not want to pay what my teacher says it’s worth,” she warned me: $100.

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Sarah Segrest | Sliced Watermelon

It was my first original oil, and the subject matter made it a perfect way to remember her and home. I had also been attracted to a earlier painting of persimmons — especially after she said that another favorite teacher, Mrs. Gavin, who taught 10th grade biology, had brought her those persimmons. As I wrote the check and claimed my prize, Mrs. Segrest took the canvasboard with the persimmon painting on it and tucked it unnoticeably inside the back of the framed watermelon painting. “Dr. Segrest doesn’t like me to give them away,” she whispered.

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Mrs. Segrest with one of her paintings.

A few years later, as the art bug was taking hold, I went to see Mrs. Segrest again on another trip back home and asked if I might buy my mother one of her paintings as a Christmas gift. She suggested an oval of roses. After mother died, I reclaimed it for myself — and now it reminds me of them both.

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My mother with Sarah Segrest | Roses

Maybeck’s Roos House changes families

February 11, 2018 § Leave a comment

Acclaimed Bay Area architect Bernard Maybeck designed the Roos House in 1909.

IN THE dwindling days of December, an historic Presidio Heights Tudor sold for the first time — ever — making it the biggest single-family home sale of 2017 in San Francisco.

Bernard Maybeck’s Roos House, at 3500 Jackson Street, sold for $11 million, down from its original asking price of $16 million. Since its construction in 1909, the home had been passed down through family members, making this its first-ever sale.

“Architecture is Life-Poetry,” Maybeck once said, quoting Louis Sullivan. The house Maybeck designed in 1909 for the Leon L. Roos family “was definitely Life-Poetry,” wrote Sally Woodbridge in her definitive book, Bernard Maybeck: Visionary Architect.

Woodbridge wrote of the Roos House:

In Mrs. Roos, Maybeck had a client whose interest in theater paralleled his own. The house was a wedding present from her father, Morris Meyerfeld, who was a partner in the Orpheum Theater Circuit company. He had taken Elizabeth Leslie with him when he traveled to Europe in search of talent, and these tours gave her a lasting enthusiasm for the theater and for theatricality. When she heard that Mr. Maybeck designed theatrical houses, she rejected the architect her father had chosen and hired Maybeck.

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The skylit entrance hall of the Roos House.

At about 9,000 square feet, this is Maybeck’s largest San Francisco residence. It has two distinct sections: a two-story front part with dining room, entrance hall, kitchen and service spaces on the ground floor and bedrooms above; and a back part with only one floor but nearly the same height as the front part. The back part contains the great two-story living hall, the largest room in the house. Though difficult to ignore for other reasons, the house does not immediately reveal its considerable size. Instead of the grand entrance typical of mansions of the time, the front door is at the end of the loggia on the east side of the house, and it is not visible from the street.

The Roos family entertained frequently and formally. Their guests would approach the house through the loggia, which serves as an open foyer, and enter the low-ceilinged, skylit entry. From this point the sequence of spaces along the lengthy north-south asix is visible. The passage from the dining room at the front to the secondary living room, or alcove, at the back is also a progression from the closed and private street side to the more open garden side. The low-ceilinged alcove is a setting for contemplation of the view through the large window overlooking the Presidio grounds and Marin County across the bay.

For all its grandeur, the living hall never dwarfs its occupants.

While the guests proceeded into the living hall, the hosts would descend from the upper floor by means of a stair hidden behind a wall and appear on a stagelike landing to greet those assembled in the hall. The landing, raised four steps above floor level, forms one end of a cross axis anchored on the opposite side of the room by a caststone fireplace that rises to the ceiling. After making an initial appearance, the hosts would usually stand by the hearth and receive their guests less formally. Dr. Jane Roos, who inherited the house in the late 1970s, recalls that she first saw her mother-in-law dressed in a tea gown, standing by the fireplace.

The Rooses had a wonderful time living a baronial life. Leon Roos, who was an owner of Roos Brothers, one of San Francisco’s major men’s furnishing stores, designed a family crest and commissioned furniture from Maybeck to complement the pieces they purchased in Europe and elsewhere.

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Maybeck’s presentation drawing of the Roos house, with the family crest.

Our little village

November 23, 2017 § 4 Comments

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Photograph by Barbara Wyeth

I’D RUN INTO Lois a couple of Saturday mornings ago at the Fillmore Farmers Market, near the bright orange persimmons and deep red pomegranates glowing in the morning sun. She was sporting her usual warm smile. We’re both part of a group that has been walking together for 25 years at Crissy Field early on Saturday mornings and has coffee together afterward. Lois’s husband Richard usually came down on his bike for coffee, then rode over afterward for his weekly volunteer gig in the Presidio. Lois and I chatted for a minute at the market. I was buying fuyu persimmons. She asked: “What are those?” Then: “How do you eat them?”

When we got back after a week away, there was a phone message from Diana, the organizer, with her husband Gary, of the walking group. Richard was suddenly very sick. So I got fuyus at the market to bring as a get-well gift. But it was too late. Richard had died — on Saturday morning, about the time of our coffee hour.

I remembered an artist friend’s fondness for photographing fuyus, so we stopped by the neighborhood flower shop where she works to pick up a card she made of one of her photographs. It turns out she’d made two: of a single and a double. Yesterday, on Thanksgiving eve, a neighbor and I walked down to Richard and Lois’s flat near Union Street and left a bag of fuyus, with the photograph of a single, on the doorknob for Lois. On the way we dropped the card with the double through their mail slot for Gary and Diana, who brought us all together.

On this Thanksgiving Day, I am thankful for good friends, especially those who live and work nearby in our little village — and for beautiful photographs beautifully printed onto beautiful cards, perfect for my bittersweet purposes.

P.S. This morning, I got an email from Lois: “Did you know? The farmers market now delivers! I got some beautiful persimmons delivered right to my front door.”

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Photograph by Barbara Wyeth

A Mathews mural is in limbo

October 15, 2017 § 1 Comment

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The center panel includes Apollo and the muses, plus Hygeia, goddess of health.

ARTHUR MATHEWS CREATED his three-panel mural Health and the Arts in 1912 for what is now the Health Sciences Library in San Francisco. It has hung there for more than a century. Now the library has gone digital, disposed of its books and put its classical home in Pacific Heights on the market, leaving the fate of the mural uncertain.

The mural was commissioned for the reading room of the library’s classical home, designed by architect Albert Pissis. Mathews at the time was perhaps California’s most important artist, and one who exerted considerable influence over the education of a generation of early California artists and the rebuilding of San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake and fire. Other murals by Mathews include a series of 12 panels tracing the history of California in the rotunda of the State Capitol in Sacramento.

A spokesman for the library said “it is too early to tell” about the fate of the mural and that it “depends on a buyer’s intended use for the building.” The Beaux Arts building is being marketed as a “one-of-a-kind development opportunity.”

“Although the murals could be removed, it would be a costly conservation process that would make them even more difficult to sell,” said Harvey Jones, the longtime curator who built the Oakland Museum’s expansive collection of work by Arthur Mathews and his wife, the equally talented artist Lucia Mathews. “It seems unlikely that a new owner will be able to utilize the murals in a new configuration of the spaces. Their artistic appeal is dubious to contemporary business sensibilities.”

Jones, author of The Art of Arthur & Lucia Mathews, added: “I wish there were some reasonable possibilities for optimism here.”

MORE: “Medical library is on the block