Monday, January 7, 2008

Artist's Model Builds Museum for SF

The San Francisco Sentinel has a terrific piece by Christopher Craig about Alma Spreckels: born to poverty in San Francisco's Sunset District, worked as an artist's model (she's the figure on top of the obelisk in Union Square) eventually marrying local rich guy, Adolph Spreckels:

"With the luxury of a staff of nannies and liveried servants, Alma began to focus her attention away from childrearing and towards the role of a proper high society hostess, not an easy feat, considering that most of San Francisco’s power elite turned their noses up at the freethinking firebrand whose humble origins and association with “bohemian” artists caused controversy in an era of stifling Victorian mores."

Not to be deterred, she headed for Europe, where she made friends with more artists and bohemians - this time as a collector.

"Alma returned to San Francisco just as World War I was breaking out in Europe, and she immediately set about acquiring several works by San Francisco sculptor Arthur Putnam, who would receive regular patronage from his new benefactor for the rest of his life.

Alma then recruited the assistance of dancer Loie Fuller to purchase the Rodin bronzes, which she successfully accomplished through much persistence, eventually securing 13 of the masterworks for Alma, as well as some of the artist’s drawings. Alma’s beloved statues made their San Francisco premiere at the Panama Pacific International Exposition of 1915, where Alma, mesmerized by the beauty of the fair’s French Pavilion, got the idea to build a museum of equal attractiveness, to permanently house her Rodin pieces and other objects d’art she had begun to acquire.

After the exposition, Alma dove into charity work, focusing nearly five years on rummage sales and high-society raffles to raise money for war-torn France and Belgium. Her five-limousine garage at 2080 Washington became a constant garage sale, and a much-publicized relief raffle at the Palace Hotel drew gift donations from US presidents and renowned figures in the arts and sciences.

She even raffled off “The Genius of War,” one of her most prized Rodins.

With some convincing, the reluctant Adolph agreed to fund Alma’s museum project, which she envisioned not only as a cultural gift to the city, but also as a tribute to the 3,600 soldiers from California who were killed during World War One."

That project became the Legion of Honor in Lincoln Park, part of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Read Christopher Craig's full story here.

Image is top of the obelisk in Union Square - detail of plein air watercolor by Anna L. Conti

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