Women and the Art of Treasure Island

“I am quite open and unashamed in my liking for expositions—“
President Franklin D. Roosevelt, opening broadcast for the Golden Gate International Exposition on Treasure Island, February 18, 1939

Postcard, Treasure Island, 1939, Golden Gate International Exposition at Night

Postcard, Treasure Island, 1939
Golden Gate International Exposition at Night

Thanks to FDR, at least six of the American expositions of the 1930s received generous federal funding. The Golden Gate International Exposition (GGIE), 1939-1940, was originally to be a celebration of the recently completed Golden Gate and San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridges. As plans progressed, the idea grew to encompass the countries and cultures of the Pacific—with San Francisco as the gateway.

The WPA and PWA paid to build the site in San Francisco Bay that became Treasure Island, as well as its three permanent Art Moderne airport buildings. The island was publicized as the site for a world’s fair (temporary) and an airport (permanent). But GGIE president Leland Cutler wrote that President Roosevelt “was intensely interested in both airport and a national defense site on San Francisco Bay.” In spite of public outcry, it was really no surprise when the Navy seized Treasure Island in 1942 for the war effort.

Treasure Island Map. The map appeared in the guidebook to the fair 1939

Treasure Island Map
The map of the fairgrounds was the work of a woman artist, Ruth Taylor White.
Photo Credit: Wikicommons

Thankfully, the WPA funded art as well as artillery, and the federal government funded many art programs, particularly in the Federal Building and in the Palace of Fine and Decorative Arts. The GGIE was also progressive in its employment of women artists. Of the thirteen local artists commissioned to convey the fair’s theme in the “Court of Pacifica,” more than half were women: Adaline Kent, Helen Phillips, Ruth Cravath, and Cecilia Graham each created three of the twenty “Pacific Unity” sculptures, and the Bruton sisters—Helen, Esther and Margaret—created the huge “Peacemakers” relief mural.

Lulu Hawkins Braghetta designed the GGIE’s giant relief “Path of Darkness” in the Temple Compound, and Helen Forbes and Dorothy Puccinelli painted the four “First Garden” murals in the South Towers. Six sculptures can be seen today at the entrance to the Treasure Island Museum in Building One, including two of Helen Phillips’s “Pacific Unity” sculptures.

Art in Action

Art in Action
Golden Gate International Exposition, 1940
Photo Credit: Herbert "Bud" Stewart, collection of Treasure Island Museum

As vice-chair of the Art Committee in 1940, architect Timothy Pflueger was in charge of all of the activities and exhibits that filled the massive Hall of Fine and Decorative Arts. His big success in 1940 was “Art in Action,” a “theater of the arts” where visitors could observe and interact with artists at work. With Helen Bruton as manager, the program included at least 50 local artists—painters, lithographers, sculptors, and weavers among them.

Most celebrated among these artists was Diego Rivera, who arrived from Mexico to paint his third and largest San Francisco fresco, “Pan American Unity.” Riviera’s colorful 22 x 75-foot mural required an army of assistants, including painters, plasterers, pigment grinders, and a cook. Largely overlooked are Rivera’s painting assistants, several of whom were women. Ely de Vescovi, Thelma Johnson Streat, and Mine Okubo were artists in their own right. Rivera’s chief assistant was Emmy Lou Packard, who met Rivera on a family trip to Mexico and developed a lifelong association with him.

Court of Pacifica

Court of Pacifica
Many sculptures here were created by the GGIE’s women artists

World War II interrupted plans to install “Pan American Unity” at a new library planned for City College. The mural spent decades in storage. It was finally installed at the college’s Little Theater, a space much too small for it. A new performing arts center planned for the campus will provide a more suitable venue. In the meantime, the mural will move to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art for a retrospective in 2020.

Treasure Island no longer belongs to the Navy. The city is developing it into “San Francisco’s Newest Neighborhood.”

View a 1939 newsreel about the “Pageant of the Pacific”.

The Golden Gate International Exposition celebrates its 80th anniversary in February of 2019. Please visit http://www.treasureislandmuseum.org/ for information about upcoming events.

The Peacemakers, Court of Pacifica

The Peacemakers, Court of Pacifica
GGIE relief mural by sisters Helen, Margaret, and Esther Bruton, is 144 feet long by 57 feet in height.
Photo courtesy: Treasure Island Museum

“Flutist,” by Helen Phillips

“Flutist,” by Helen Phillips
One of six restored GGIE statues that have been relocated to Building One on Treasure Island.
Photo Credit: Courtesy Art and Architecture SF

Lulu Hawkins Braghetta at work at the Court of Pacifica

Lulu Hawkins Braghetta at work on her Cambodian-inspired bas-relief, "Path of Darkness.”
GGIE, Court of Pacifica
Photo Credit: Treasure Island Museum

Artist Diego Rivera and Assistant Emmy Lou Packard

Artist Diego Rivera and Assistant Emmy Lou Packard
Golden Gate International Exposition, 1940
Photo courtesy: Diego Rivera Mural Project

“Pan American Unity”

“Pan American Unity”
Riviera’s masterpiece was completed in 1940. For a close up view and a key: http://riveramural.org/fullmural
Photo Credit:
Photo courtesy: Diego Riviera Mural Project

US Postage stamp Commemorating the GGIE

US Postage stamp
Commemorating the GGIE
Photo Credit: Wikicommons

The Women Who Painted Coit Tower

Coit Tower
San Francisco
Photo Credit: Courtesy Wiki Commons

Just as FDR’s Administration gave Eleanor Roosevelt and Frances Perkins the opportunity to profoundly shape public policy, the New Deal also opened up real and meaningful work for women in the arts. 

One place this played out was atop San Francisco’s Telegraph Hill, inside a quirky building where four women artists had a crucial role in making the first large-scale New Deal art project a lasting, creative success.

At a time when men got nearly all such work, Maxine Albro, Suzanne Scheuer, Edith Hamlin, and Jane Berlandina were among twenty-five artists selected to paint the interior of the newly built Coit Tower, where twenty-seven murals covering 3,691 square feet of wall space took form from 1933-1934, a turbulent time in this city.

Maxine Albro, Assembling mosaic for UC Extension, San Francisco, CA

Maxine Albro
Assembling mosaic for UC Extension, San Francisco, CA
Photo Credit: Courtesy of SF Public Library History Center

Painter, muralist, and lithographer Maxine Albro was born in Iowa and came to San Francisco in 1920 to study at the California School of Fine Arts. She later traveled to Mexico, met Diego Rivera, and studied fresco. In her Coit Tower mural, “California,” she included the New Deal’s National Recovery Administration (NRA) logo on boxes of oranges being packed by workers in the fields—a nod to the newly created federal agency that set minimum wages and maximum working hours. The model for one of the mural’s field hands was another Coit Tower artist, Parker Hall.  Soon after the Coit project was completed, Albro and Hall married, moved to Carmel, and joined the Carmel art colony.

Jane Berlandina, New Deal artist at work

Jane Berlandina
New Deal artist at work
Photo Credit: Courtesy of SF Public Library History Center

Jane Berlandina, born in France, was brought up in luxury. She was entranced by art and earned a degree from the exclusive Beaux Arts National School in Nice where her teacher was post-Impressionist Raoul Dufy whose style is quite different from that of Diego Rivera, the mentor of other Coit Tower artists. Berlandina’s mural, “Home Life,” is set apart in a small room on the tower’s second floor. Her use of egg tempera—pigments mixed with egg yolks as a binder—gives her transparent, seemingly unfinished figures a light touch that contrasts with scenes of Depression-era street life and labor strife depicted in the tower’s other murals. 

Edith Hamlin, Posing with her mural at San Francisco’s Mission High School

Edith Hamlin
Posing with her mural at San Francisco’s Mission High School
Photo Credit: Courtesy of SF Public Library History Center

Edith Hamlin, born in Oakland, California, was assigned to paint outdoor recreation on the tower’s second floor where elevator doors would be smack dab in the middle of her mural. She made the most of it with her fresco “Hunting in California,” which depicts a hunting dog at the ready, a duck hunter with his prize, wild geese flying free, and a deer grazing. Hamlin went on to work for the Federal Art Project, painting two enormous murals at San Francisco’s Mission High School. She later married painter Maynard Dixon at whose San Francisco studio a group of artists had earlier gathered to insist that the government provide work for starving artists—a demand that led to the Coit Tower murals.

Suzanne Scheuer showing new frescos to Enid Henley on Enid’s nursery school walls, 1933.

Exhibit Photograph: Suzanne Scheuer
Showing new frescos to Enid Henley on Enid’s nursery school walls, 1933.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of SF Public Library History Center

Suzanne Scheuer moved to San Francisco from San Jose in 1918 and studied at the California School of Fine Arts and the California College of Arts and Crafts. When Scheuer was assigned to paint a Coit Tower mural depicting newspaper production, she was initially reluctant to take on the job. She went to the Chronicle Building, did sketches of the offices and printing plant, and turned them into one of the liveliest of the Coit Tower murals—“Newspaper Gathering.”  After the Coit Tower project, Scheuer went on to paint post office murals in Berkeley, California, and Caldwell and Eastland, Texas. She later moved to Santa Cruz, where she designed and built six houses, doing much of the labor herself. 

The Public Works of Art Project (PWAP), the first New Deal program to employ artists, was short lived, lasting only six months. When it ended in June 1934, it had employed 3,749 artists. The popularity and success of the Coit Tower project inspired the many New Deal art programs that followed.

Detail, “California” 1934, Coit Tower Mural by Maxine Albro

Detail, “California” 1934
Coit Tower Mural by Maxine Albro
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Volcano Press

Detail, “Hunting in California,” 1934, Coit Tower mural by Edith Hamiin

Detail, “Hunting in California,” 1934
Coit Tower mural by Edith Hamiin
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Volcano Press

"Newspaper Gathering," 1934

"Newspaper Gathering," 1934
Coit Tower Mural by Suzanne Scheuer
Photo Credit: Barbara Bernstein

“Home Life,” 1934, Coit Tower Mural by Jane Berlandina

“Home Life,” 1934
Coit Tower Mural by Jane Berlandina
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Volcano Press

 

Remembering Frank Cassara, the Last of the CCC Artists
by Kathleen Duxbury

CCC and WPA artist Frank Cassara

CCC and WPA artist Frank Cassara
A portrait of the artist in his studio.
Photo Credit: ©Kathleen Duxbury 2010 All Rights Reserved

Frank Cassara, a former Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and WPA artist died on January 13 at home in Ann Arbor, Michigan, two months shy of his 104th birthday. Frank’s persistence and talent earned him a place in New Deal art history. He was the last of the New Deal CCC artists.

During a 2010 interview, 97-year-old Frank and I reviewed government records detailing his enrollment as an artist in the CCC seven decades earlier, at Camp Swallow Cliff, Co. #1675-V, near Palos Park, Illinois. As Frank slowly read through the papers he looked up and said “I am starting to remember,”

Enrollees from Camp Swallow Cliff, Palos Park, IL, 1935.

Enrollees from Camp Swallow Cliff, Palos Park, IL, 1935.
CCC men working in a limestone quarry. A stone crusher is in the background.

In 1934, living in Detroit and desperate for work, Frank sent a letter to the head of the Section of  Painting and Sculpture at the U.S. Treasury Department, Edward Rowan, asking about a job:

Dear Sir, It has come to my notice that the government intends to send one hundred artists to C.C.C. camps. I am greatly interested in recording camp life and would appreciate any opportunity you could give me…. Thanking you for any information you can send me, I am, yours sincerely,

Frank Cassara

My meeting with Frank turned into two afternoons of unhurried memories—vignettes of a naïve young man, out of his element; vivid descriptions of CCC work projects, the cutting and crushing of stone at a local quarry, numbers painted on the side of a truck, and life in the barracks.

Frank brought his observations to life in the oil, watercolor, and pencil drawings he made during his yearlong CCC assignment. Exempted from heavy labor, artist/enrollees spent 40 hours a week depicting life in the camps. Their artworks were shipped to the Section of Painting and Sculpture Treasury Department in Washington, D.C.

Sandusky, Michigan Post Office mural.

Sandusky, Michigan Post Office mural.
“Cattle Drive,” by Frank Cassara, 1942

After his discharge from the CCC, Frank again found himself without a job. By then, his work was known and admired by Ed Rowan and others at the Treasury Department, and in 1937 Frank was hired by the WPA’s Federal Art Project (FAP). He several  murals in Michigan, at the Thompson School in Highland Park, a water plant in Lansing, and at post offices in Detroit and Sandusky, Michigan, eventually becoming a supervisor of the FAP for the state.

During World War II, Frank served as an artist with the Army Branch of Engineers in the American and Asiatic Pacific Theater. At war’s end, he became a professor of art at the University of Michigan, where he taught for 36 years.

Frank lived to the fine old age of 103 years and 10 months. He was drawing to the end of his life. Time spent with Frank Cassara remains a highlight of my CCC Art Projects research.