Thursday, November 7, 2019

Aurora Mandolin Orchestra

The San Francisco Public Library is pleased to host the Aurora Mandolin Orchestra for their 12th consecutive performance in the Koret Auditorium on November 10, 2019 at 2pm.

The original Orchestra played in the 1930s. Gino Pellegrini was a member then and restarted the group, as its Director in the 1970s. After his passing in 2006, Gino's wife, Jo took on the role.
The Orchestra  consists of more than 30 members with professional and amateur musicians playing mandolin, mandola, mandocello, guitar, string bass, accordion, flute and percussion, who travel from various parts of the Greater Bay Area for a weekly rehearsal. Their repertoire includes creative arrangements of folk music, semi-classical Italian, Spanish, Russian songs, popular "oldies", contemporary pieces (some taken from familiar musicals), excerpts from operas, and classical orchestra compositions written specifically for mandolin.

In addition, Belle Sorella, the soprano duo, Susie and Nova Jimenez will also perform.

Monday, October 28, 2019

The Painted Over City - Die bemalte Stadt

Die bemalte Stadt: Initiativen zur Veränderung der Strassen in USA; Beispiele in Europe by Horst Schmidt-Brümmer and Feelie Lee from 1973 is a study of street art -- both mural and advertising art. In English the book's title would The Painted City: Initiatives to Change The Streets in the USA; Examples in Europe. It is richly illustrated with photographs from that time, most from California. A good number of the images are from the Bay Area.

The authors present these visual examples from the United States to encourage their European audience to enliven their public spaces.They delight in what they describe as an everyday, colloquial visual language on American streets.  One of the subject headings for the volume is Urban beautification -- United States.

Even through the German text may not be welcoming to many of our readers, the book's photo-documentation is a treat and features a few dozen images of San Francisco scenes, mostly of artwork that disappeared long ago.

One example is an image of the Shandygaff restaurant at 1760 Polk Street (at Washington Avenue).  This establishment was a trailblazer in the health food movement.  According to Inside the California Food Revolution, Shandygaff was where Mollie Katzen of Moosewood Cookbook fame received her training.

The immense lettering on the business's exterior also caused a sensation. Herb Caen remarked:
Shandygaff, that wild-looking new restaurant at Polk and Washington -- the name is in letters about 10 feet high, wrapping around the corner -- is owned by Atty. Rubin Glickman, who let Graphics Designer Marget Larsen really do her eye-popping thing.
The letters actually look like they are 15 feet tall.  Marget Larsen had been the art director for the Joseph Magnin stores and is considered along with Barbara Stauffacher Solomon to have been one of the earliest designers of "supergraphics."

There are other available images of Marget Larsen's design.

For instance from the San Francisco Chronicle of June 27, 1971.

Or through the Design Library Image Collection at North Carolina State University.

The image in Die bemalte Stadt is very clear and well-framed and is a welcome documentation of this significant work of graphic design.

Shandygaff Health Food Restaurant - Vegetarisches Restaurant, Polk St., San Francisco

By 1974 the restaurant replaced Larsen's design with a colorful Timothy Jenk mural depicting nineteenth century agrarian life. The space is still a restaurant today, but it sports a far less audacious copper and orange exterior.

While many of the examples in Schmidt-Brümmer and Lee's book are of commercial graphic art, there are also many instances of community-based murals.  Co-author Feelie Lee also published a photograph of a mural at the Hunters Point No. 2 Elementary School in the California Living Magazine of March 1973.

She contributed a fuller black and white image of the mural in Die Malte Stadt.

Hunters Point II Elementary School - Volksschule, Kiska Road, San Francisco

This untitled artwork was created by Dewey Crumpler in 1972 not long after completing his mural studies in Mexico. He was eager to undertake this project because he had attended this school growing up in Hunters Point.

The work depicts a young man and woman (left and right sides) absorbed in books.  Behind them are images from colossal books of important African-American figures like W.E.B. Dubois, Harriet Tubman, Malcolm X, Dr. Martin Luther King and Muhammed Ali.  Further in the background are sheltering wings of elders who guard this knowledge. Crumpler wished to communicate the "importance of education and wisdom gained over time" (personal communication).

There are young people at the foreground of the mural that regard these volumes and historical figures with awe and reverence.  The photograph from Die bemalte Stadt supplements those painted children with the children of the school. While enjoying their time learning and at play they can also appreciate these inspirational figures.

The Hunters Point II School (image source: San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection)

The Hunters Point II School was originally called the Ridgecrest No. 3 School and opened in 1944.  Like the neighborhood itself, the school was constructed quickly and cheaply to serve armament workers how moved to San Francisco in large numbers from the South.  It was reconstructed in 1953 but was ultimately closed and torn down in 1975.

This work was not mentioned in A Checklist of San Francisco Murals from 1986, but Crumpler does include it among the commissioned works listed on his online resume.

Die bemalte Stadt is valuable to us today because it documents a visual medium and a visual landscape that is frequently destroyed or lost.  Both the Marget Larsen and Dewey Crumpler works discussed here were gone after only a few years, but learning about these works increases our understanding of these artists and of San Francisco society and its art world at that time.

Anderson, Judith, "Murals: A New Way To Dress Up Buildings," San Francisco Chronicle (September 2, 1974).

Caen, Herb, "Just Foolin' Around," San Francisco Chronicle (November 18, 1970).

A Checklist of San Francisco Murals, 1914-1986, edited by Tim Drescher and Victoria Scarlett. (J. Paul Leonard Library, San Francisco State University, 1986).

Goldstein, Joyce and Dore Brown, Inside The California Food Revolution: Thirty Years That Changed Our Culinary Consciousness (University of California Press, 2013).

Isenberg, Alison, Designing San Francisco: Art, Land, and Urban Renewal in the City by the Bay (Princeton University Press, 2017).

Lee, Feelie, "The People's Art Gallery," San Francisco Examiner & Chronicle California Living Magazine (March 11, 1973).

Resume, Dewey Crumpler [website].

Schmidt-Brümmer, Horst and Feelie Lee, Die bemalte Stadt: Initiativen zur Veränderung der Strassen in USA; Beispiele in Europe (DuMont-Schauberg, 1973).

Thursday, October 17, 2019

The Photo Ark

The Photo Ark: One Man's Quest to Document the World's Animals, with photographs taken by Joel Sartore, displays endangered animals in a unique way. Animals are placed in front of either a black or white background with nothing else to distract the viewer. The captions on one facing page or both, identify the animal, and give a rating abbreviation from Extinct (EX,) to Least Concern (LC.)  The key to these ratings is on page 33, directly preceding chapter 1. Introductory writing includes a Forward written by Harrison Ford and the story of how the concept of the book began, by the author.

The first chapter named "Mirrors" shows similarities in very disparate animals. There is a sense of humor in the juxtaposition of the animals on a 2 page spread. One side may be a mandrill with very distinct red and white coloring on its face. On the other page, a beetle with similar coloring on its thorax. In another set of photos a King Vulture faces inward toward the center of the book, a red bump giving it an unusual profile. Directly across from the bird bump is the protuberance of a rhinoceros.

This long chapter of animals "facing off" is broken up by brief explanations entitled "Behind the Scenes" or "Heroes." Four other chapters follow with similarly playful pairing. Back matter includes a brief explanation about how the animals were photographed, with a before and after Photoshop example. Notes on the continuing effort to photograph these animals, about the author and contributors, acknowledgements, and finally an index of all the animals by page number, giving the zoos and locations where the animals are housed, with a URL for curious readers are included.

The photo ark: one man's quest to document the world's animals / Joel Sartore ; foreword by Harrison Ford ; introduction by Douglas H. Chadwick. Washington, D.C. : National Geographic, [2017.]   779.32 Sa773p  

Monday, October 7, 2019

10 Years of the SFAC Galleries Passport Event

The San Francisco Public Library is thrilled to be working with the San Francisco Arts Commission (SFAC) Galleries to present an exhibition celebrating 10 years of SFAC’s annual outreach event, Passport. Launched in 2009, Passport was a family-friendly, art focused, scavenger hunt that fostered an innovative way for artists and the public to interact outside of a gallery setting. The annual event, which has now sunsetted, provided an interactive and affordable way to collect art, raise awareness of the SFAC Galleries and their programs, and use the arts as an economic driver to support small businesses across the city. Over the years, thousands of Passport participants visited vibrant neighborhood venues and collected artwork from over 150 emerging and established artists, as well as works from the estates of Bay Area legends such as Ruth Asawa, Richard Diebenkorn and Roy De Forest. The Library is honored to share with our community SFAC’s display of passport booklets filled with original artist stamps.

Passport was produced by the SFAC Galleries and supported by the SF Office of Economic and Workforce Development.

Banner image: Passport exhibition at the SFAC Main Gallery, 2018. Photo: Phillip Maisel

Currently on view in the Art, Music & Recreation Center
4th Floor, Main Library
Saturday, 9/14/2019 - Thursday, 1/02/20

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Rova Saxophone Quartet LIVE!

The world-renowned Rova Saxophone Quartet has been inspiring and challenging audiences for over 40 years. They are a pioneering avant-garde ensemble that explores the dual paths of composition and collection improvisation. Their music defies genre, exploring post-bop, free jazz, avant-rock and contemporary classical music. The San Francisco Public Library is honored to present a concert of new works by the Rova Saxophone Quartet -- Bruce Ackley – soprano saxophone / Steve Adams – alto saxophone / Larry Ochs – tenor saxophone / Jon Raskin – baritone saxophone. The concert will conclude with a Q&A with the audience.

Saturday, 9/28/2019
3pm -5pm
Koret Auditorium, Main Library

To learn more about Rova, visit the Art, Music & Recreation Center to access Rova Saxophone Quartet's vertical file that houses a variety of articles, program flyers, letters, etc.

                                         Image preview

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

The New Romanian Cinema

At the beginning of 2019, San Francisco Public Library’s Art, Music, and Recreation Department launched World Cinema Time, a program featuring foreign films with English subtitles. The screenings happen once a month on Tuesday evenings in the Koret Auditorium.

Tonight's screening at 5:30 PM will be Romanian director Calin Peter Netzer’s film Child’s Pose, the winner of the Golden Bear award at the Berlin Film Festival in 2013.

Although cinema arrived in Romania at the end of the 19th century, the nation has only begun to make award-winning films in the 21st century with the so-called New Romanian Cinema.  The Death of Mr. Lazarescu directed by by Cristi Puiu which won the Un Certain Regard award at the Cannes Film Festival in France in 2005 opened the floodgates for Romanian films to bag 28 international awards by the end of 2018.

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (dir. Cristian Mungiu) became the first Romanian film to win Palme d’Or at Cannes in 2007, and caused a controversy when it didn’t make the Foreign Language Film shortlist for Oscars. This film perhaps remains the Romanian film with the strong reputation.
Scholarship on Romanian cinema is scant by international standards. But a basic keyword search (Romanian cinema) in databases such as Art Full Text and Film & Television Literature Index with Full Text will yield a wealth of information on various aspects of Romanian cinema.

We can recommend the DVDs in our collection:

 4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days (2007)
Child's Pose (2013)
Beyond the Hills (2012)

The way I Spent the End of the World (2006)
Death of Mr. Lazarescu (2005)

12:08 East of Bucharest (2006)

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Main Columns, pt. 2

One of the principal design elements of James Ingo Freed's Main Library building are cylindrical columns located on the east and west sides of the atrium.

A previous entry looked at the positioning of these columns on the west side of the Main Library building.  This entry will look at them on the building's east side.

Columns 6, 7, 10 and 11 extend from the Library's Lower Level and parallel the ceremonial staircase to the west of the atrium.

Only column 11 is visible from the Lower Level, located just outside the door to the restrooms.  The other columns cannot be seen on the Lower Level because they are incorporated into interior walls. It remains visible as it extends to the 1st floor.  On the 2nd floor column 11 is incorporated into the south wall at the entrance to Children's Center

On the 1st floor, columns 7 and 6 are located on both sides of the self-return machine.

Column 10 is placed further back in the sorting area with a metallic covering to protect it from the impact of book trucks.   (Column 11 on the outside of this space).

On the 2nd floor, columns 7 and 6 mark the beginning of the ceremonial staircase.

Columns 11 and 10 are just outside the windows at the entrance to the Children's Center.  Column 11, as noted above is incorporated into the outside wall.

On the 3rd floor, columns 7 and 6 are placed parallel at the rear of the ceremonial staircase.

Columns 10 and 11 behind them are positioned behind a bookcase and in front of the study rooms.

Viewed from the 4th floor phonodisc collection, columns 8 and 9 stand parallel to the staircase and columns 10 and 11 stand close behind computer terminals and in front of the study rooms.

On the 5th floor, columns 6 and 7 are enclosed within a foyer at the top of the stairs.

Columns 10 and 11 stand between a desk and a card catalog and the study rooms.
Here is a view of columns 7, 6 (behind glass) and 10 on the 5th floor facing the staircase.
On 6th floor, columns 10 and 11 have a metallic exterior and line the windowed wall to the Rooftop Terrace.

Their partners, columns 6 and 7 are spaced within the 6th floor's Rooftop Gallery.

Columns 8, 9, 12, 13 and 14 will be discussed in a later entry.

Previous entries:

The Altes Museum and the Main Library (March 6, 2019)

Rotunda Resonances in the San Francisco Main Library (March 25, 2019)

 Labrouste's Libraries, Structural Columns and the Main Library (May 9, 2019)

Main Library Columns, pt. 1 (June 13, 2019)

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

A Date with Lucky: a musical documentary and performance

Join us for the short award-winning documentary Getting Lucky and a set of live music. Private Eye by day, singer and artist by night -- that’s how Mr. Lucky rolls!

Directed by Oscar Bucher, Getting Lucky is an offbeat musical documentary about Pierre Merkl III, a.k.a. “Mr. Lucky”, a man of many faces and San Francisco’s most eccentric private detective.

Driving around The City in his 1961 New Yorker, Pierre recalls his days as investigator and conceptual figurative painter, alongside his nights under the stage lights as Mr. Lucky, performing punk to eclectic to jazz— at venues from Burning Man to Lincoln Center to Bimbo’s 365 Club to Windows on the World and beyond.

A love song to San Francisco, Getting Lucky is also a bittersweet warning that the great city is slowly losing its eccentric characters, and with it, its bohemian soul. Getting Lucky isn’t about luck-- it’s about the hard work, unrelenting confidence, and idiosyncratic creativity that it takes for an offbeat character like Lucky to exist at all.

Following the screening of the film (along with bonus shorts) Mr. Lucky & the Cocktail Party will perform live on the Koret stage.

Co-presented by the Art, Music and Recreation Center and the San Francisco History Center’s S.F. Punk Archive.

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2019
6:00pm - 7:30pm

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Main Library Columns, pt. 1

A previous blog entry on the influence of Labrouste's libraries on the James Ingo Freed designed Main Library discussed the prevalence of circular columns, especially around the building's atrium.

This entry will focus on the five circular columns on the atrium's west side (toward Larkin Street), numbered 1 to 5.

Paired columns 1, 3 and 2, 5 lie on an imagery vector from the building's center at the Larkin Street side to the atrium itself.  Column 4 falls within the line between columns 3 and 5, and at an angle that parallels Market Street outside (a design feature that also positions the Periodical Reading Room on the 5th floor).

These columns extend from the Library's Lower Level to its roof.  Incorporated into walls, they are not visible on the Lower Level, but they emerge into the open in the Fiction / Browsing Collection of the First Floor.

Columns 2 abuts a book shelf and Column 5 is positioned near the Mary Louise Stong Conference Room.

Columns 4 and 5 on the first floor mark the end of the marble floor surface.

The second floor presents these columns in a more open manner.  Viewed  from the Talking Books and Braille Center, Columns 3 and 1 (left to right) are at the foreground straddling the bridge across to the Center. In the background columns 4 and 2 frame the entrance to The Mix.

From the Larkin Street entrance Column 1 follows the line that extends from the building's center and is a tangent to the circular atrium (Column 3 is just behind it along the same line).  A little bit of the First Floor is visible below.

Column 4 backs the stand announcing Library events visible to patrons entering from Larkin Street.  Column 5 is paired with it inside The Mix.

Another view shows column 2 is positioned just outside the Mix / Teen Center, while column 5 is captured within.

Column 5, isolated at the entrance to The Mix helps form a small nook.

Columns 4, 5 and 2 on the third floor break up sections of desks and shelving.

On the fourth floor, Columns 5 and 2 wedge a table of internet computers.  Column 5 directly support the Periodical Reading Room above, while column 2 abuts it.

Columns 2 on the fifth floor is directly outside the glassed in Periodical Reading Room, while Columns 4 and 5 fall along a diagonal line bisecting the room.

Column 2 rising continuously from the fourth floor to the roof supports Alice Aycock's Cyclone Fragment sculpture (column 4 is visible in the distance inside the Periodical Reading Room).

Aycock's other sculpture, Functional and Fantasy Stair envelopes Column 3 at the other end of the room.  Column 1 (normally paired with Column 3 does not extend into the Fifth Floor).

On the Sixth, Columns 3, 4 and 5 resolve into a line that guides the railing that extends above the Periodical Reading Room.

The columns on the opposite side of the atrium (on the building's Hyde Street side) will have a different story to tell in a later entry.

Previous entries:

The Altes Museum and the Main Library (March 6, 2019)

Rotunda Resonances in the San Francisco Main Library (March 25, 2019)

 Labrouste's Libraries, Structural Columns and the Main Library (May 9, 2019)

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

The Man Who Lit Lady Liberty

The Art, Music, & Recreation Department of San Francisco Public Library is currently hosting an exhibition centering around a forgotten man of many talents and trades but whose final claim to fame would rest on him being an actor known at the height of fame as M. B. Curtis.

Born as Moritz Bertrand Strelinger, he immigrated with his family at the age of 6 from Hungary to the United States. Restless and unsatisfied, he ran away when a little older from home to try his luck at various things, including a failed attempt at joining the Union Army. He then somehow managed to get small roles in theater and as sometimes happens, one thing leading to another, he found a role of a drummer with enough opportunity present his comic side. As luck would have it, the play ran much longer than was scheduled owing to Mr. Curtis’ talent and presence in the play. He had the audience in stitches, which was not unique for those times, audiences laughing at Jewish actor responding to his Jewish or self-deprecating jokes. The main difference this time, however, resided in the fact that the audiences weren’t laughing at the Jew but with him.

By now he had adopted a stage name of M. B. Curtis and with foresight, he purchased the play and produced it with his brother’s help. This catapulted him to the national fame, thus becoming the first Jewish male to portray a Jewish character with depth. So far, the field had always in the hands of gentile actors. But Mr. Curtis showed during his extra ordinary journey in the realm of performing arts that he was much more than an actor.

As luck would have it, the Statue of Liberty had recently arrived and Congress refused to fund the lighting of the statue. The lights went off on Nov. 1, 1886. Mr. Curtis was in New York and felt horrified at the darkened spectacle, so he decided to foot the bill from his own pocket. Another feather in Mr. Curtis’ hat was when Mark Twain approached him to perform in the theatrical version of the Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. Local historian Richard Schwartz tells us that Mr. Curtis agreed on one condition, even willing to shell out $20,000 to produce it, if and only if Mark Twain would let Curtis portray the main character as a Jewish immigrant a la Sam’l of Posen, the play which had catapulted the actor to fame.

The current exhibition The Man Who Lit Lady Liberty is a result of the tremendous patience and passion, all in all some twenty years, from the time Mr. Schwartz began looking into Mr. Curtis’ connection to the city of Berkeley; he kept on digging deeper and deeper for more information, reading countless out-of-print books and hunting newspaper databases. As people became aware of Mr. Schwartz’ larger than life project, help in collecting memorabilia poured in from varied sources, including Library of Congress, which succeeded in unearthing a rare footage of Mr. Curtis’ silent film. Mr. Schwartz plans on showing the film during his talk.

Richard Schwartz is fascinated by the history of the Bay Area and the San Francisco Public Library is pleased to have several of his titles in our collection. We recommend them here:

The Man Who Lit Lady Liberty: The Extraordinary Rise and Fall of Actor M. B. Curtis (RSB Books, 2016).

Eccentrics, Heroes, and Cutthroats of Old Berkeley (RSB Books, 2007).

Earthquake Exodus, 1906: Berkeley Responds to the San Francisco Refugees (RSB Books, 2005).

Berkeley 1900: Daily Life at the Turn of the Century (RSB Books, 2000).

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Labrouste's Libraries, Structural Columns, and the Main Library

In a July 1996 article in the periodical Interiors reviewing James Ingo Freed's newly open San Francisco Main Library, the author notes the influence of Labrouste's 19th century Parisian libraries on the design of the newly opened San Francisco Public Library Main Library.

In fact, library administrators accompanied Freed and and collaborating architect Cathy Simon on a tour of European libraries in January 1900 where they visited Labrouste's two famous structures, the Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève (1850) and the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (1868). Both of these buildings have had an enduring influence on library architecture.

Labrouste's influence is apparent in George Kelham's 1917 Main Library building, particularly in  the first floor Entrance Hall and Stairwell and the second floor Delivery Room and Reading Room.

Stairwell of George Kelham's 1917 Main Library (source: San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection)

One of the striking innovations of Labrouste's libraries is the use of an exposed iron pillars to create open space and enhance natural lighting.

Reading room of the Bibliothèque Nationale (source: Henri Labrouste: Architecte)

 Tables interrupted by columns in the Bibliothèque Nationale (source: The Architecture of the École des Beaux-Arts)

Ground floor of the Bibliothèque Saint Geneviève (source: Building in France, Building in Iron, Building in Ferroconcrete)

Freed's Main Library design frequently uses exposed columns instead of embedding them within structural walls with the same desire for openness and natural light.

Rectangular pillars extend the height of the library and are incorporated into the building's structure as part of the borders to light wells on the library's Fulton Street and Larkin Street sides.

They are regularly spaced at intervals of 18 and 36 feet on the Fulton Street side of the building, and at intervals of 12 and 36 feet on the Larkin Street side.

In a previous entry we have seen how round pillars are also an important part of the building's conception.  These round columns are placed with less regularity on left and right sides of the atrium.  

I have numbered these pillars 1 to 14.  These also rise from the library's Lower Level and extend to the roof.  Numbers 6-13 are arranged as two groups of four pillars, spaced 18 and 12 feet apart.  The two groups of four in turn are 36 feet apart.  Pillars 6-7 and 10-11 surround an imaginary line that divides the length of the building in half.

Pillars 1 to 5 are positioned according to different imagined angled lines that extend from the midpoint of the Larkin Street outer wall and surround the outer edge of the atrium.  Pair 1 and 3 and pair 2 and 5 are placed along these lines.

The location of pillar 4 is tied to the position of pillar 2.  One of Freed's principal design elements for the Main Library is a juxtaposition of lines between streets on an east-west grid (Larkin, Hyde, Fulton, Grove) and Market Street (plus South of Market).  The fifth floor periodical reading room is laid out according to the angle of the latter.  Pillars 2 and 4 run parallel to Market Street.  On the opposite side of the floor, pillars 11 and 14 run parallel to 8th Street.

In the next installment I will show the variety of contexts where these rounds pillars appear on the Library's seven floors.


The Architecture of the École des Beaux-Arts, edited by Arthur Drexler (Museum of Modern Art, 1977.

Giedion, Sigfried, Building in France, Building in Iron, Building in Ferroconcrete; translation by J. Duncan Berry (Getty Center for the History of Art and the Humanities, 1995).

Herbert, Susan, "Library Travelers Check Out Europe's Best," San Francisco Independent (January 31, 1990).

"Rotunda Resonances in the San Francisco Main Library," San Francisco Public Library Art, Music and Recreation Center [blog] (March 25, 2019).

Saddy, Pierre, Henri Labrouste, architecte, 1801-1875 (Caisse Nationale des Monuments Historiques et des Sites, 1977).

Webb, Michale, "Library," Interiors vol. 155 (July 1996), 44-51.