More on Berkeley Art Museums and Galleries

There are just two more weekends left of my exhibit at the Berkeley Historical Society. The official closing day is Saturday, April 2, but it will also be open on Sunday, the 3rd, 2-4 p.m., for a talk by Aleta George about her biography of poet Ina Coolbrith (who, by the way, was one of Albert Bender’s many friends; the Bender Papers at Mills College contain 85 letters she wrote him beginning in 1917).

An exciting and serendipitous discovery during my research for the exhibit was a 1929 Sanborn map of the Cal campus, with the building that was the University Art Gallery from 1934 to 1970 labeled “Bender Art Museum.” I think the map was tweeted by someone at the Bancroft Library. According to the Centennial Record of the University of California (1967) list of buildings, it was in 1931 that the power and steam plant operations moved out of John Galen Howard’s 1904 brick building, but this map shows that its future use as an art gallery was already contemplated in 1929, and that the university was proposing to name it the Bender Art Museum. Art professor Eugen Neuhaus is credited with the idea of converting the building to an art gallery. At the building dedication, Provost Monroe Deutsch gave Albert Bender most of the credit for making it happen:

. . . though the University of California had no art gallery, with faith in the future and an eagerness to provide the material for a great art gallery, which he saw one day coming, he gave us paintings, marbles, and other works of art, even though he realized that for a time some would have to be stored and others serve merely to embellish the previously austere offices of the President and myself.

The Class of 1933 made a monetary gift that covered part of the cost of the renovation, and Albert “proceeded at once in characteristic fashion to go out and tell his friends how important the enterprise was and to secure the necessary additional funds to supplement the gift of the class. But he did not stop with this. He threw himself into the whole process of converting the Power House into a suitable place for works of art.”

Deutsch wrote in a letter to Albert,

I feel confident we are now laying the foundations of what will some day be a magnificent art gallery, something of which the State will have a right to be proud. Neither you nor I will be here to see it but in spirit at least we can frequent its halls and rejoice in the accomplishment of a dream. And when that day comes I shall pat you on your immaterial back and say, “Albert, you see what you have accomplished.”

The latest incarnation of that dream opened as the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive where the campus meets downtown Berkeley on January 31, 2016.

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William Keith, California’s “Old Master”

Keith Sand Dunes

William Keith, Sand Dunes and Fog, San Francisco,
circa 1880s, Saint Mary’s College Collection

I spent 16 years working with the collection of paintings by William Keith (1838-1911) at Saint Mary’s College, Moraga, California. I created a William Keith Room to display works from the collection in what was then called the Hearst Art Gallery. With a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and sponsorships from several individuals, we were able to publish a catalog of the collection in 1988. I was way too busy running the museum to do the necessary research and writing. One expert on historic California art, John Garzoli, recommended another, Alfred C. Harrison, Jr. When I first met Alfred he was a private collector and researcher. He agreed to write a monograph about William Keith for our publication, concurrent with taking over the North Point Gallery in San Francisco. Joseph Armstrong Baird, who had served as art curator for the California Historical Society in the 1960s and early 70s while also teaching art history at U.C. Davis, had founded the North Point Gallery in 1972. It still exists today, in its third location, with Alfred Harrison as president, and still focuses on historic California art.

The Keith Collection at Saint Mary’s was started by Brother Fidelis Cornelius, who taught at the college and published a 600-page biography of the artist, Keith, Old Master of California, in 1942, followed by a supplementary volume in 1957. The size of the collection, now more than 160 paintings, has made it possible for the Saint Mary’s College Museum of Art to repeatedly develop traveling exhibitions. For one of these, I wrote an article that draws heavily from Keith’s own words. With permission from American Art Review, I am attaching that illustrated article here. If it whets your appetite for more, you may want to acquire the 2011 book, The Comprehensive Keith, in which every painting in the collection is illustrated in color, Alfred’s essay is updated, and two conservators have written essays about the paintings and their frames.

To read more, download my article from American Art Review 6:6 (Dec 1994–Jan 1995): “William Keith: California’s Poet-Painter.”