‘The message was what moved me’

March 3, 2014 § 1 Comment

Herman Volz | Picket Line, 1938

Herman Volz | Picket Line (1938)


I came to an art career at midlife. After raising four children, I took some art history courses and the docent training course at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. It was especially fun introducing school children to the museum.

Then, my interest piqued, I set out to be a part of the commercial art world.

In 1980, I was hired by the well-established Maxwell Galleries in the heart of San Francisco’s art scene near Union Square. It was a turning point for me. Maxwell’s afforded an opportunity to become acquainted with a wide range of American and European art from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It was also a terrific place to learn the business of running an art gallery from Mark Hoffman, the owner of Maxwell Galleries, who was a genial gentleman and a seasoned pro.

Armed with that valuable experience and my husband Maurice’s support, I went out on my own. At first I worked as a private dealer from our home in San Francisco. Eventually I found a little storefront on Francisco Street in North Beach and opened a gallery there in 1988. Within a year or so, I had become acquainted with artists who had worked on the Coit Tower murals and began showing their work. Then more and more art of the 1930s and early 1940s came into my inventory.
Soon I was reintroducing the work of artists whose names had faded from general view, even though they had noted careers during their prime years. There was much under-appreciated older talent, and images from the early years of the 20th century were hugely appealing. The directness of the often rawly conceived pictures of the American scene captured both the good and the bad of those years.

Otis Oldfield | Woman in Bath, 1932

Otis Oldfield | Woman in Bath (1932)

I came to know and love the work of the surprisingly small circle of artists who had been critically acknowledged in San Francisco and the surrounding area in the 1920s and ’30s. They basically were all friends; it seemed that competition and their alienation from the outside world didn’t affect many of them. Women were welcomed; the first graduating class of the California School of Fine Arts included more women than men. There was a comparatively open attitude in the art world of the American West — which was not without its critics, of course, but generally allowed a progressive artistic bent. Many young artists had made the voyage to Europe, returning to America inspired by both the traditional and innovative artistic “isms.”

The strong historic component of art from the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s held much personal appeal because of my local roots. I grew up hearing about life on the Embarcadero from my stepfather, who was a longshoreman during those years and had often described how difficult the times were at the waterfront. The era’s labor struggles were well photographed, but it turned out there were very few paintings and prints of those stormy, bloody days.

With my feet wet at a gallery in North Beach, I wanted to try handling a downtown location. So in 1991, with not a little trepidation, I found a space near Union Square, adding new “forgotten” artists as well as contemporary work, while also exhibiting in art fairs in California and the East. This was new, hard work, but rewarding in so many ways.

When my husband sold his business and retired in 1997, I followed suit by closing my gallery. But I have continued to be involved in a few different art projects that have come along.

Now we are pleased to be able to share part of the work we kept for our own collection, some of which viewers may find relatively unusual. There are paintings, prints, drawings, photographs and sculpture, some representing past events and scenes in San Francisco history that have not had much exposure. The message of many of them is what moved me. Perhaps viewers will discover new names and find new interests in San Francisco’s history as captured by its artists, just as I have throughout my involvement in the city’s art scene.

REVIEW: The Jan Holloway Collection

Jan Holloway and Thomas Reynolds at the opening reception | March 8, 2014

Jan Holloway and Thomas Reynolds at the opening reception | March 8, 2014

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