Sunday, August 9, 2015

M. Earl Cummings, pt. 2 - Sculpture in Golden Gate Park

In a previous entry we traced Melvin Earl Cummings life and career and noted his influence on San Francisco's artistic life for many years as an Art Commissioner and as a Park Commissioner.  Now we will look at the imprint of Cummings' work on Golden Gate Park.

A few of Cummings' works - a drinking fountain and a bust of Rueben H. Lloyd can no longer be found in the park.  As the photograph below shows, this drinking fountain was adjacent to the Conservatory of Flowers.

Drinking Fountain - Golden Gate Park (near the Conservatory of Flowers)
(no longer extant)

Another piece of Cumming's artwork that was once in the park was an 8 foot high statue of Rueben Lloyd located at his namesake Lloyd Lake nearby the Portals to the Past.
head of the Statue of Rueben H. Lloyd (source: Chronicle April 27, 1913) 
(no longer extant)

Lloyd H. Rueben, a prominent San Francisco attorney and Park Commissioner who was also active in the local chapter of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows.  The San Francisco Art Commission apparently voted to deaccession the this work on April 13, 2006.

Earl Cumming's sundial at the DeYoung Museum, created in 1905, was installed and dedicated in 1907

The Golden Gate Park Sundial (keeping reasonably good time at 10:53 AM)

Commissioned by the Society of Colonial Dames of America it depicts three colonial navigators at its top: Fortuno Ximenes (credited with discovering Baja California in 1834), Juan de Cabrillo (who explored California in 1542) and Sir Francis Drake (who did likewise in 1579).

Nearby, also outside of the DeYoung Museum are Cummings' sculptures for the Pool of Enchantment.
A pair of pumas (on the right) listen to an Indian boy playing a pipe (center left). 

The artist's son, Ramy (R. Ramsdale Cummings), later recalled his discomfort at posing naked in a chilly art studio for this work.

Another work by Cummings, "Neptune's Daughter," is nearby in the adjacent Children's Garden of Enchantment.  This work along with "Portrait of an Artists' Wife," "Child's Head," and "San Francisco Gold Star" (probably the Doughboy statue below) were displayed at the Legion of Honor Sculpture Exhibit of 1929.

This statue made national news when it was repaired after being vandalized.  In 2011 somebody pulled an arm off the statue.  According to the Wall Street Journal the DeYoung museum reported the crime to the police and quietly removed the statue sans arm.  Around a year later unknown members of the public spotted the stray bronze arm in some bushes and returned it to the museum.  In the mean time the museum had filed an insurance claim and sent the 2000 pound damaged statue to the insurer in England.  The insurer later generously gifted the restored work back to the DeYoung.

Perhaps Cummings' most prominent work is the sculpture of a cougar fighting a snake at the Rideout Fountain located in the center of the Music Concourse.
This 1926 was commissioned by a banker's widow, Corinne Rideout, who donated a portion of his estate to commission the fountain and sculpture.

This followed a 1908 commission by another widow, Susanna Brown, to memorialize her husband.  Here he created the bear and mountain lion book-ending the gate that greets  visitors as they enter Golden Gate Park from 8th Avenue at Fulton Street.

Cummings' other works in Golden Gate Park are specimens of what art historians have characterized as the "statue-mania" of the late 19th and 20th centuries.  Julian Bell describes this exemplification of national and civic pride as "an age when monuments to rulers, benefactors, legendary founders or lamented heroes sprouted in every available urban space."

This concept probably originated with Maurice Agulhon who analyzed the characteristics of this statuomanie.  He noted the prevalence of solid media like stone and bronze.  Often there is the use of a pedestal and the subject is depicted (often standing) in a realistic manner reflecting their profession or position in the world.  We have described other manifestations of this phenomenon in entries about the Verdi and Beethoven monuments in the Park.

The most obvious presentation of this tendency in Cummings' work is his imposing statue of poet Robert Burns in the Park that was unveiled just a few months before the 1906 Earthquake and Fire.  The sculpture commissioned by the Scottish Citizens Committee, nearly 10 feet tall by itself, is placed on a base designed by San Francisco City Hall architect Arthur Brown.

As the Verdi and Beethoven statues were focal points for the nationalism of the Italian and German communities in the Bay Area, likewise the statue of Robert Burns played this role for the Scots. There was a time when there was an annual observation of Robert Burns' birthday at the statue every January 25 by the local Scots community.

The "Doughboy" statue, also known as the "Gold Star" statue," was created in 1928 and bought by the Native Sons and Daughters of the Golden West in 1930.  As a war memorial it does not look very martial with a hat-less soldier holding a wreath against his chest.  The statue on its rock base is flanked by two flagpoles.  Names of the fallen soldiers in both World Wars are recorded on the base.  As Jennifer Wingate describes in her work on "doughboy" statues, a work like this serves to condense the "attitudes about war, nationalism, heroism, and loss" of the time

The other memorial statue in Golden Gate Park that Cummings created is rather atypical and delightful.  It is a nearly life-size figure of John McLaren who was superintendent of the Park for 53 years.

This statue is fittingly located in the John McLaren Rhododendron Dell. It was completed some time before McLaren's death.  A 1926 newspaper article reported that the statue was kept in storage in the park because the subject "never wanted to come face to face with himself while he was living."  The work is unusual and endearing because McLaren is approachable.  He is not placed on a pedestal and appears lost in thought, and completely unpretentious.

In a 2008 article, a San Francisco Chronicle describes M. Earl Cummings as being "all but forgotten."  That may be so, but his work, almost all of it displayed without attribution, has left a substantial imprint on the city of San Francisco.

Agulhon, Maurice, "La 'statuomanie' et l'histoire," Ethnologie française (1978), pp. 145-172. [Available through JStor]

American Sculpture: The Collection of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco by Donald L. Stover (Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, [1982?]).

"Big Bronze Sundial is Presented to City," San Francisco Call (October 13, 1907) [found in the California Digital Newspaper Collection]

Blum, Walter, "What's Where in the Park," Sunday San Francisco Chronicle and Examiner (March 26, 1972), pp. 24-39. [found in the  San Francisco Chronicle Historical and Current database]

"Cummings Shows Fine Work At Exhibition," San Francisco Chronicle (May 12, 1929), D5.

Golden Gate: The Park of a Thousand Vistas by Katherine Wilson (Caxton Printers, 1947)

Mirror of the World: A New History of Art by Julian Bell (Thames & Hudson, 2007).

Morch, Albert, "Ramy the Aquarian Emerges," San Francisco Chronicle (May 27, 1973), B1. \

San Francisco Civic Art Collection: A Guided Tour to Publicly Owned Art of the City and County of San Francisco (The Arts Commission of San Francisco, 1989).

San Francisco, The Bay and Its Cities, compiled by workers of the Writers' Program of the Work Projects Administration in northern California (Hastings House, 1947).

San Francisco's Golden Gate Park: A Thousand and Seventeen Acres of Stories by Christopher Pollock (Westwinds Press, 2001).

"Statue of Bobbie Burns to Be Given City," San Francisco Chronicle (January 28, 1906), 52.

"Statue Will Honor Heroes," San Francisco Chronicle (March 6, 1930), 5.

"To Honor Reuben H. Lloyd: Statue Will Stand In Park," San Francisco Chronicle (April 27, 1913), 28.

Wingate, Jennifer, "Over The Top: The Doughboy in World War I Memorials and Visual Culture," American Art vol. 19, no. 2 (Summer 2005), pp. 26-47 [Available in JStor]

Wolfe, Alexandra, "A Museum Wins the Arms Race," Wall Street Journal (September 5, 2014).

"Worker in Bronze: Oakland Metal Worker Makes Statues in Bronze," San Francisco Chronicle May 9, 1926, 39.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Rob Nilsson: a local hero

Rob Nilsson’s Film Month
San Francisco Public Library’s Art/Music/Recreation department is pleased to screen five films – August 2, 9, 16, 23, 30 - by a leading American Independent filmmaker who’s often billed an heir to John Cassavetes, to whom he dedicated his film Signal 7. The movie (shot in 1984) is often seen as ground-breaking transfer video to film paving the way for the digital revolution. Although born in Wisconsin 1939, he has made the Mill Valley area his home since. Most of films have premiered at the Mill Valley Film Festival. 

Each screening begins at 1 p.m.

Mr. Nilsson has directed over two dozen feature length films and several TV dramas. For his first feature, Northern Lights, Mr. Nilsson, along with his co-director John Hanson, won the prestigious Camera de’Or at Cannes in 1979.

San Francisco Public Library carries many of Mr. Nilsson’s films in our collection which can be checked out to patrons. Also, the San Francisco History Room has in its reserve collection several films from Mr. Nilsson’s series titled 9@Night. Patron are advised to use the SFPL catalog:

We recommend the following titles to those who would like to read up on Rob Nilsson’s view on films and his contribution to independent cinema in the US.

For further reading, we also suggest:

    Wild surmise : a dissident view by Rob Nilsson (Bloomington, IN : Authorhouse, 2013)
2    Shoot it! : Hollywood Inc. and the rise ofindependent film by David Spaner (Vancouver : Arsenal Pulp Press, c2012)
4    Not Hollywood : independent film at the twilightof the American dream by Sherry B. Ortner (Durham : Duke University Press, 2013)
5    American independent cinema : indie, indiewood and beyond edited by Geoff King, Claire Molloy and Yannis Tzioumakis (New York : Routledge, 2013)

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Melvin Earl Cummings - Monumental Sculptor of the City

Only one San Francisco resident was represented in the catalogue for the 1929 exhibition Contemporary American Sculpture presented at The California Palace of the Legion of Honor in conjunction with the National Sculpture Society.  Earl Cummings (Melvin Earl Cummings) also had the distinction of being San Francisco's representative on the Jury of Selection for the exhibition as well as being a member of the Board of Trustees of The California Palace of the Legion of Honor.  (The only other Northern Californian represented in the show was Joseph J. Mora, the sculptor of the Cervantes monument in Golden Gate Park.  Leo Lentelli, who moved to New York and is the subject of an earlier blog, is also included).

Cummings was born August 13, 1876 in Salt Lake City, Utah.  His father Melvin Elisha Cummings worked as a cashier at the Utah Commercial and Savings Bank.  Upon moving to San Francisco he was employed as a clerk for the Board of Public Works.  His grandfather James W. Cummings was a Mormon elder who arrived in the Utah Territory in 1851.  A man of local prominence, he was a Utah State Legislator and a Salt Lake City Councilman.

As a boy Melvin Cummings showed talent for wood carving.  He apprenticed himself to a carver and received training as he worked on the decoration of the Mormon Temple.

He won a San Francisco Art Association scholarship to attend the School of Design of the Mark Hopkins Institute of Art.  Under the tutelage of Douglas Tilden he had completed at least two works "Love and Death" and "Bohemia's Toast to the Owl" (then exhibited at the Bohemian Club).

At age 20 his family moved to San Francisco studied at the Mark Hopkins Art Institute under Douglas Tilden  The 1900 Crocker Langley San Francisco Directory lists Cummings as a student of Douglas Tilden living at 1121 Leavenworth.  He had exhibited a few works when Phoebe Hearst (widow of a U.S. Senator and mother of William Randolph Hearst) noted his talent and sent him to study at the École des Beaux Arts in Paris where he studied with Mercié and Louis Noël.  Below are a few of his Paris works.

Cummings in Paris with "A Portrait Bust" his first work accepted at the Paris Salon (1901)

 Design for A Mausoleum, ca. 1900-1
Les deux puissances, le bien et la mal (The Two Forces: Good and Evil) Paris Salon 1902

He presented one of his Paris salon works, "La Soif" (Thirst - also known as "Man Drinking Water"), as a gift to the City.   This sculpture portrays an elderly man on a rock. Cummings stated that he "donated the little figure to the city because it seemed so appropriate for the neighborhood of Washington Square."  He also noted that the model for this work was the same one who posed for Rodin's work "John the Baptist."

 La Soif in Marini Plaza
La Soif viewed in the context of Columbus Avenue / Washington Square

This 800 pound statue made the news in 1923 when it was feared to have been stolen by "narcotic addicts."  The truth turned out to be far less interesting. The Board of Public Works had considered removing it because they wished to turn the triangular space into a safety zone. Without notifying anyone, the Park Commission transferred the work into storage while they considered an alternate location for it.  In the end the statue was return to its rightful spot and in the process acquired a fountain that accounts for the visible trickle of water on the statue.

The 1905 Catalogue of the San Francisco Art Association noted that Cummings was "employed in a responsible position" for San Francisco's Department of Public Works. At the same time he worked as a professor at the Mark Hopkins Institute of Art where he taught the modeling classes.  He exhibited two works that year, both in plaster - a bust of his teacher Douglas Tilden and the earlier mention "Love and Death" which was owned by Mrs. Hearst herself.

On June 7, 1905 he married Guadalupe Rivas, the daughter of Isaac Rivas, a physician and surgeon who came to San Francisco in 1869 as the Mexican Consul.  Rivas was a prominent member of the community and was an early member of the Bohemian Club.

One of Cumming's most easily overlooked works is located in one of the most heavily traveled places in the City.  His commemorative plaque of Carl G. Larsen is visible, though probably unnoticed, to all pedestrians and vehicles on the west side of Route 1 / 19th Avenue at Ulloa Street.

The inscription reads: "Carl G. Larsen has generously given these two blocks to the City of San Francisco for park pleasure purposes A.D. MCMXXVIII."
M.E. Cummings and Carl G. Larsen stand before land Larsen gave city for park (source: San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection).

Cumming's plaque was placed upon a 40 ton piece of stone that was extracted from Golden Gate Heights and moved to Larsen Park.

Cummings created an earlier bronze commemorative tablet in 1921 for the San Francisco Fire Chief's Residence at 870 Post Street memorializing Dennis T. Sullivan.  Sullivan had been the Chief Engineer of the Fire Department during the Great Earthquake and Fire of 1906 who died from wounds sustained during that cataclysm.  The work was commissioned and paid for by the City's firefighters and was placed on the residence when it opened in 1922.

In addition to these public sculptural works Cummings also created a number of works for the Bohemian Club.  He taught modelling in the architecture department at UC Berkeley from 1906 until his death in 1936.
Another one of Cummings' less-noticed sculptures is the pair of mountain lions that border the clock inside the lobby of the former Bank of California.  This work is similar to the bronzes sculptures he created for the 8th Avenue entrance to Golden Gate Park.  Some of his other works include some of the figural work on the Sather Gate on the University of California at Berkeley campus (which caused some controversy at the time) and a statue of Commodore Sloat in Monterey.  He also exhibited works at the Panama Pacific International Exposition in 1915.

Cummings was a person who held great prestige, power and authority in the San Francisco art community. He was a member of the board of trustees of both the California Palace of the Legion of Honor and the M. H. de Young Memorial Museum.  In this capacity he a great influence on the works selected or rejected for the museums.  In 1930 he was even an interim director of the Legion of Honor.

He was also a San Francisco Parks Commissioner from 1904 where he was the mandated artist-member and chaired the advisory committee of artists and architects.  Very much a man of the establishment, he was a member of the National Sculpture Society, the Society of Colonial Wars, the Army and Navy Club, the Society of the Sons of the American Revolution and a member of the Order of Founders and Patriots of America.

He and his wife lived in Pacific Heights at 3966 Clay Street.  Their names appear in the high society San Francisco Blue Book from 1907.  They appear in San Francisco's Social Register from 1914.  Cummings was listed in Who's Who In America from 1906 to 1932.  He is also listed in Who's Who In California in 1929.  He was listed in the American Art Annual in 1910 and 1915.  In 1913 he was also included in the Allgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler von der Antike bis zur Gegenwart.  He receives less mention in more recent reference books.  Nevertheless, the  Allgemeines Künstlerlexikon of 1999 and, of course, Edan Hughes' Artists in California give him substantial mention.

a portrait of Melvin Earl Cummings from the San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection

In his final days he experienced liver and kidney failure and went into a coma.  He died on July 21, 1936 at the age of 59. An obituary of Cummings from UC Berkeley described his as "a naturally quiet and unobtrusive man, though one of intensely social instincts."

He did a substantial amount of work in Golden Gate Park that will be discussed in a later entry.

"Ah-h-a-a! 'Le Soif' is Found," San Francisco Chronicle November 30, 1923

 Allgemeines Künstlerlexikon: Die bildenden Künstler aller Zeiten und Völker, Band 23 (K. G. Saur, 1999).

Allgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler von der Antike bis zur Gegenwart, achter Band, hrsg. von Dr. Ulrich Thieme und Dr. Felix Becker (W. Engelmann, 1913).

American Art Annual (MacMillan Co., 1898-).

American Sculpture: The Collection of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco by Donald L. Stover (Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, [1982?]).

Artists in California, 1786-1940 by Edan Milton Hughes (Crocker Art Museum, 2002).

Biographical Encyclopedia of American Painters, Sculptors & Engravers of the U.S.: Colonial to 2002, compiled by Bob Creps (Dealer's Choice Books, 2002).

California Art Research, volume 6

Catalogue of the San Francisco Art Association, Mark Hopkins Institute of Art (San Francisco Art Association, 1905).

Contemporary American sculpture / The California palace of the Legion of Honor, Lincoln Park, San Francisco, April to October, MCMXXIX ([National Sculpture Society], 1929).

"Cummings, S.F. Sculptor, Dies," San Francisco Chronicle July 22, 1936.

"Death Claims M.E. Cummings, S.F. Sculptor," San Francisco Examiner July 22, 1936

Dictionary of American Sculptors: "18th Century to the Present," edited by Glenn B. Opitz (Apollo, 1984).

"Earl Cummings," San Francisco Call May 6, 1901, 9. [source: California Digital Newspaper Collection]

"Earl Cummings Here: Talented Salt Lake City Artist En Route to Paris," Deseret News September 24, 1900, 2. [source: Google Books]

"40-ton Stone Will Mark Larsen Park" San Francisco Chronicle August 13, 1928, 11

Medders, Stan, "From the Golden Age of City Sculptors," California Living Magazine / San Francisco Sunday Examiner & Chronicle, May 3, 1981. [source: Artists File]

"Melvin Earl Cummings, Architecture: Berkeley," from 1935-36, University of California: In Memoriam (1937), digitized in Calisphere.

"Quintons Quit Legion Palace," San Francisco Chronicle May 8, 1930, 3

"The Recent Work of M. Earl Cummings," The Mark Hopkins Institute of Art Review vol. 1, no. 9 (Mid-summer 1904). [scanned in Google Books]

San Francisco Blue Book (Charles C. Hoag, 1904-).

"Sculptor Cummings Ill," San Francisco Examiner July 21, 1936.
Social Register, San Francisco (Social Register Association, -1976).

Stein, Ken, "Sather Gate's Checkered Past," San Francisco Chronicle (October 28, 2008)

A Survey of Art Work in the City and County of San Francisco, prepared by Martin Snipper for the Art Commission, City and County of San Francisco (1953).

Who's Who in America (Marquis Who's Who, 1906-1932).

Who's Who in California: A Biographical Directory, 1928-29, edited by Justice B. Detwiler et al. (Who's Who Publishing Co., 1929).

"Work of Art Removed From North Beach," San Francisco Chronicle November 29, 1923, A1