California’s old master

December 4, 2011 § 4 Comments

Murals by William Keith hang in the Swedenborgian Church in San Francisco.
Photograph by Jim Karageorge


A great personality was evident to all who came in contact with William Keith. A rather thick-set Scot of medium height, with a head of true nobility — a broad face, wide forehead, kindly gray eyes, ample, well-shaped nose, a moustache and small beard hiding his lips, and a mass of tousled grizzly gray hair surmounting his Jovian head — such was the impression one got of him at first meeting. He generally wore a suit of fine checked gray, more often with the careless abandon of an artist than with the neatly pressed creases of a business or professional man.

To his intimate friends he was always gracious, although they sometimes found him in an exuberant mood and again utterly dejected and despondent. It all depended on whether his work was progressing satisfactorily or not. When he had dashed off an inspired masterpiece he was jubilant and triumphant, but when he had laboriously slaved over something that just would not come out as he intended, he was in the black depths of despair.

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The case of the missing mural

August 1, 2011 § Leave a comment

Study for The Commonwealth | Arthur Mathews

Arthur Mathews — the leading artistic figure in San Francisco at the end of the 19th century — was prolific, even in his creation of murals for public spaces. In addition to a 12-panel mural tracing the history of California for the State Capitol in Sacramento, Mathews in 1924 designed The Commonwealth to appear above the bench in the barrel-vaulted courtroom of the California Supreme Court in San Francisco.

In the 1950s the courtroom was given a more up-to-date dropped ceiling and the mural was removed. Then after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, the courtroom was remodeled once again and the original barrel vault was restored to its original glory. But the Mathews mural could not be found. In a new article, San Francisco lawyer Ray McDevitt tells the story.

Read more: “The Commonwealth: A Lost Art

Where are the paintings?

February 20, 2011 § Leave a comment

Youth | Arthur Mathews | Oakland Museum

The remaking of the Oakland Museum’s art department continues to spark considerable discussion. What was previously a chronological hanging of California art has given way to a more multidisciplinary approach. This exchange of correspondence between artist Jeff Bellerose and chief curator Philip Linhares offers two prevailing viewpoints.

On 2/7/11 5:03 PM, “jeff bellerose” wrote:

Dear Mr. Linhares:

I was given your email by one of the art guides at the Oakland Museum and I wanted to write to you concerning my visit to your museum. I have long been an enthusiastic supporter of the Oakland Museum, but it is difficult to express my profound disappointment at the new renovation.

The history floor, to start nicely, is very well done — interactive and intriguing and a fine design to try and include and involve kids and adults in the recreation of historical moments. However, the art floor, which has always been my primary reason for visiting, was lacking in, well, art. Where are the paintings?
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Mathews in the neighborhood

March 11, 2007 § Leave a comment

Monterey Cypress | Arthur Mathews | Oakland Museum

Please join us Sunday, March 18, from 3 to 5 p.m. for a discussion and viewing of Health and the Arts, a mural by Arthur Mathews in its original setting at the California Pacific Medical Center Health Sciences Library at Sacramento and Webster Streets. This event is concurrent with the exhibition on Arthur and Lucia Mathews at the Oakland Museum.

The program will include a presentation by Harvey L. Jones, curator of the exhibition at the Oakland Museum, on the life and work of Arthur and Lucia Mathews. Thomas Reynolds, of the Thomas Reynolds Gallery on Fillmore Street, will discuss the Mathews connection to the neighborhood. Their studio and furniture shop was nearby at 1717 California Street.

Read more: “Art met craft

Poppies were her passion

February 2, 2007 § Leave a comment

Poppy Box | Lucia Mathews | Oakland Museum


It is hard now to imagine the fields of golden California poppies that once covered the hills and filled the valleys in the San Francisco Bay area — or the impact they had on local and visiting artists.

When Eschscholtzia Californica was first adopted as the state flower in 1890, it was an obvious choice. Poppies were so much a part of the consciousness of the state that an entire room was devoted to the golden blossom at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. As a design motif, they showed up on china, textiles, stationery goods and playing cards, even in songs and poems about the state.

It is possible young Lucia Kleinhans found her love of the golden flower on the campus of Mills College in Oakland, where she studied, or in Golden Gate Park, which was sprinkled with the golden buds, and only a few blocks from her family’s home on Fell Street.

It seems more likely it was across the bay in Belvedere, where she spent time in the early 1890s sketching the open fields of flowers, plants and trees with one of her instructors from the California School of Design. They were not concentrating entirely on their artwork. The instructor was Arthur Mathews, who would become her husband and her artistic partner.
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Master of the mural

November 8, 2003 § Leave a comment

The Soil | Arthur Mathews

Join us on Saturday, November 22, 2003, for a discussion on the legacy of Arthur Mathews murals at the African American Museum and Library in Oakland, home of six recently restored Mathews murals, including The Soil (above) and The Grain. Thomas Reynolds, owner and director of the Thomas Reynolds Gallery in San Francisco, will engage Harvey Jones, senior curator of art at the Oakland Museum, in an intimate converation about the life and work of California artist Arthur F. Mathews.

In 1902, Mathews was commissioned to undertake an ambitious plan for 12 large murals for what was then the Oakland Free Library building, financed by industrialist Andrew Carnegie. Only six of the murals were completed, but they remain, according to Harvey Jones, “among the finest examples of the muralist’s art in this country.”

Apparently Carnegie agreed. He said he considered the Oakland public library the most beautiful of any of the hundreds of libraries bearing his name. “The work that Arthur Mathews has done upon the walls of the Oakland library stands as a monument to his genius,” Carnegie told the San Francisco Call in 1911.

Tea with the Gettys

June 23, 2003 § Leave a comment


The original Temple of the Wings was designed by Bernard Maybeck.

GORDON AND ANN GETTY invite you to join them for tea at Temple of the Wings.

So said the invitation to my friend William Whitney, who traffics in upper-crust circles. Could I come along as his driver?

So off we went across the bridge to the Berkeley hills, to one of the great architect Bernard Maybeck’s creations, redone and outfitted to the nines – at least – by the heirs to the Getty oil fortune.

After an earlier outing to the Getty’s San Francisco double-mansion on Outer Broadway, William had scoffed that their approach to design was, “Don’t do. Overdo.”

This place was impressive. William was greeted as the Grand Pooh-bah of the Attingham Society, the group of aesthetes being received at the tea, who have toured and studied the great English country houses. William was an Attingham fellow back in the 1960s when he headed the California Historical Society. Among the alumni is the curator of the Getty Collection – yes, they have their own, responsible for the various treasures spread among their houses in the Bay Area.


Original columns support an open entry.

Temple of the Wings was designed by Maybeck at the turn of the century for a family of Berkeley eccentrics. They were dance enthusiasts, and their temple was built as something of a dance studio. It has a crescent spine of massive twin Corinthian columns and looks out over the bay directly through the Golden Gate. The family dressed in flowing robes, held dance pageants and ate peanuts, leading the neighbors to refer to their perch as Nut Hill.

The Gettys bought it in 1994 after a period of some decline. Ann Getty, just then emerging into her new role as a doyenne of design, set about collecting some exceptionally fine furnishings and artwork from the late 19th century British Arts & Crafts Movement – the perfect complement to Maybeck’s composition. Inside were excellent examples from all of the major figures, with textiles by William Morris, silver from Liberty of London and furniture by the Herter Brothers. Major paintings by Bougereau, Alma-Tadema and the Pre-Raphaelites hung on the walls. Upstairs were choice pieces from California’s Arts & Crafts elite, including, in the bathroom, a mahogany sconce by Greene & Greene.

My favorite single item was in the living room, on a side table, under a Tiffany lamp. There sat a framed family photograph. It was Grandpa: J. Paul Getty, sitting bolt upright on a severe high-backed sofa, surrounded by grandchildren, not a smile to be seen.

Someone asked whether anybody lived in the house. Oh yes, said the curator, Mrs. Getty has a sleepover here with her granddaughters every year.

MORE: “A paean to the Aesthetic Movement

Tonalism at the Swedenborgian

May 11, 2001 § Leave a comment


A painting by Jack Cassinetto in the parish house of the Swedenborgian Church.

We’re pleased to present new tonalist paintings in the Arts & Crafts style by California landscape painter Jack Cassinetto in a most appropriate venue: the historic Swedenborgian Church in San Francisco. A reception will be held on Friday, May 11, in the parish house at 6:30, followed by a talk by the artist in the sanctuary at 7:30.

Many prominent early California artists and artisans helped create the church, including the most significant artist of the era, William Keith, whose four murals hang on the north wall.

Read more: “Cradle of Arts & Crafts

‘A coppersmith of skill and maturity’

December 1, 1996 § Leave a comment

Hand-hammered four-socket copper and mica lamp by Audel Davis


Copper, like oak, clay and linen, is an ideal medium for the expression of Arts & Crafts principles. It is a humble material, easily worked by hand and requiring no industrial technology. Its natural color is wonderfully rich, and it lends itself to an array of subtle patinas. Thus it is not surprising that copper became the material of choice among the early 20th century American Arts & Crafts metalworkers. Metalsmiths such as Marie Zimmermann of New York, Karl E. Kipp of East Aurora, Forest Emerson Mann of Grand Rapids, Douglas Donaldson of Los Angeles and — most sublimely — Dirk van Erp of San Francisco, set high standards for work in copper in the Arts & Crafts tradition.

The revival of interest in the Arts & Crafts movement of the last two decades has not been limited to collectors and antique dealers, but has encompassed contemporary craftspeople as well. Among the handful of craftsmen who work in copper, Audel Davis is a new name. Although he has been studying the craft for some seven years now, he has offered his work to the public only since 1996. In that short time, he has started to hammer out for himself a reputation near the top of his field.

Audel Davis crafting copper and mica lamps in his Berkeley workshop.

Audel’s perfectionist nature is such that he simply will not release work that does not meet his exacting standards. His insistence on rendering his own designs, rather than merely duplicating great work from the past; his willingness to experiment with new forms; and his growing ability to work with a range of patinas all mark him as a coppersmith of considerable skill and maturity. His work shows an increasing sense of sophistication and he is developing a commitment to major forms: table lamps, large jardinieres and — this year — a 62-inch floor lamp, which is by far the largest work he has made thus far.

The two aspects of Audel Davis’s work I most admire are his high standards of craftsmanship and his ability to allow his designs, informed as they are by elements from the past, to speak their own, unique vocabulary.

Q&A WITH AUDEL DAVIS: “Honesty of form, beauty of design

Honesty of form, beauty of design

December 1, 1996 § 1 Comment


Audel Davis is one of a small group of coppersmiths — probably fewer than a dozen nationwide — who lovingly follow the early 20th century Arts & Crafts movement’s tenets: utility, craftsmanship, respect for materials, appreciation of proportion, attention to detail, honesty of form and beauty of design.

Audel has a long history of craftwork, dating back to his childhood. “It’s something I’ve always done,” he says. “I can’t remember when I wasn’t working with my hands on some project.”

Born and raised in northern Santa Barbara County into a family that traces its California roots back to the Gold Rush, he learned basic construction skills from his father, a building contractor. While still in junior high school, he completed the construction of a small building in the back yard of his family’s home in Santa Maria to house his model railroad.

This ability to work with his hands was of value when Audel and his wife, Lynne, bought a turn-of-the-century house on a deep lot in Berkeley. They set out to repair and expand the house for themselves and their four children. Audel completely transformed the house, working with tile and stained glass as well as the basic carpentry, masonry and cabinetwork required for a growing family home.

It was while he was working on his home that he became interested in copper. His first work was for his home and family. What follows is a discussion with Audel about his interest in hand-hammered copper.
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