Oh, No! San Francisco Art Institute Has Closed

Just as a major Diego Rivera exhibition has opened at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and I have been writing about Albert Bender’s friendship and support of Rivera and Frida Kahlo, I hear the San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI) has abruptly closed after an anticipated merger with the University of San Francisco fell through. This is sad news for many reasons, including that the Rivera mural at SFAI had just been restored with a $200,000 grant from the Mellon Foundation. Plans were underway to showcase the mural with a series of public events. But as of now the entire staff is laid off, although there is some sort of plan for SFAI to “remain a nonprofit organization to protect its name, archives, and legacy.” Both the building and the Rivera mural have been designated city landmarks, which will limit their future possibilities.

Diego Rivera, The Making of a City, 1931, fresco mural at San Francisco Art Institute

This closure is also a blow to me personally, because I had been planning to revisit the SFAI archives, where I did some research early in the process of working on Bender and Bremer. The SFAI library was named the Anne Bremer Memorial Library, and I wanted to get a little more background on when and how it got that name. The school moved into the building in 1925, after Anne Bremer had died. Below is an image of the library, apparently just known as the San Francisco Art Association Library, in 1930. (Note Henri Matisse’s words of praise for San Francisco’s art atmosphere and art school!)

In 1935 this “dedicatory relief” was installed above the library fireplace:

Jacques Schnier, The Soil, 1935, wood carving with gold leaf

I suppose the artist intended the subject matter to suggest that an art school was providing aesthetic nourishment to young people. I find it interesting that Schnier, himself a Jew as were Bender and Bremer, included Stars of David as Naziism was on the rise.

So it was probably in 1935 that the library got its name. The following year, Bender commissioned several artists to paint frescoes in the eleven semicircular lunettes above the wood paneling: Victor Arnautoff, Ray Boynton, William Hesthal, Gordon Langdon, Frederick Olmsted, and Ralph Stackpole. Most of these artists had worked on the Public Works of Art Project-funded fresco murals in Coit Tower in 1934. Besides wanting to beautify the room (recently called one of the most beautiful college libraries in America), Bender always wanted to help artists financially. In the midst of the Depression they could use all the help they could get.

Catching up on recent articles about the Art Institute, I also learned of a number of frescoes there that had been painted over in the early 1940s and were rediscovered and restored in the past few years. One of the student artists who created them was Suzanne Scheuer, whose name I recognized as the painter of the mural in the Berkeley Main Post Office. See her depiction of a Roman-themed artists’ costume ball here.

I hope there is some way that the building will once again be open to the art-loving public and its archives open to researchers like me.

Poems by Anne Bremer


Buried deep it lies,
A metal bell with a hollow sound,
Deep down in the ground.

Scanning the skies
For stars to wear
As moondust in our hair,
We walk around.
With simulated glee each goes,
Peering for tiny flowers of rose
Spangled on the ground.

So carefully covered, hidden it lies,
This metal bell of hollow sound;
With finger on lips, we move around;
For no one dares, oh, no one dares—
See the smiling mask that each one wears.


On days when I remember
The days I would forget,
I walk among the flowers
Of the garden I have made;
Flowers of clearest azure
Grow, I find, in shade.


Unwearied the seasons come and go,
Unfailing recur bud, leaf, fruit, snow.
The vast blue solitude abides,
Each walks alone below—
Two seldom walk abreast.

When the circle is rounded by the tides
And the journey ends—who would not rest?


I had not hoped last year
To look on budding cheer.
Mauve heather spray-drops bloom
Like pale nuns, wrapped austere;
And on my window sill
Two sappy leaf-blades, slim,
Enfold a daffodil.

Slowly I climb the hill,
The tangled web nearer, each day;
One furtive, wistful glance
I cast—the other way.


In city crowds, in whirls of sound and motion,
In remote lands, under far sky,
Though years together, we have been strangers,
My soul and I.

Aged walls of apathy close in upon us,
The pleasant social smile has ceased to satisfy;
We are alone together, . . . no longer strangers,
My soul and I.


Waves majestic,
Rising, seething,
Foaming, crashing;
Pools of molten gold
Poured upon fluid chrysoprase.

A bird, solitary,
Speeding darkly, dips the curling crests;
Rising, seething,
Foaming, crashing;
Vast silences beyond.

Expand oh! soul, hold infinitude!
Spacious tranquility
Calmly silvering into night.


Shadows of lilac echo the form
Of my arched shoe,
Where the bare, untrammeled toe
Of an agile Indian may have pressed,
Long years ago.

When Serra’s thonged and sandaled feet
Marred the smoothness of tawny sand,
Wistful memory followed birds
Flying in quest
Of genial land.

The tide for her shining lover will reach
When moonlight silvers dunes and beach;
Many feet have passed on your silent plain,—
Unchanging, changing—you remain.


Slender lily smooth and white
whose perfume floats upon the air
like opalescent gossamer;

Butterfly poised, shimmering wings in light,
gold damascene: black, pure-yellow and jade;

Magic music, in its flight
softly winging aloft the soul;

If only a day, of spiritual height
calmly silvering to its goal.


Anne Bremer, Still Life, ca. 1921, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

Anne Bremer, Still Life, ca. 1921, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

Aubergin and yellow glazes,
Satsuma and rare old vases,
In the studio on the hilltop;
Silken curtains filter daylight,
Where the mellow shade falls softly
On a lacquered jar of rouge.

Golden glints of prisoned sunlight
Gleam within a wide-necked milk-jug,
Downy folds of scarlet velvet
Mirrored view their ruddy beauty,
And the frisking flames of firelight
Dance upon its polished surface.

On a wooden cart it rattled
In the quaint old town of Bruges;
Over stones and bumpy pavements,
Over crooked narrow streets.
Once it humbly served the many
Chubby, placid, Belgian babies.

Toddling babies cooed and prattled
While their mothers friendly gossiped.
Sun-rays skipped across its surface
In a wooden cart with others,
Ample-bellied shining brothers.

Golden glints of prisoned sunlight
Gleam within its bright brass surface;
Idle now, it lolls at ease.


Anne Bremer, The Highlands, ca. 1920, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

Anne Bremer, The Highlands, ca. 1920, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

Crooked gnarled cedars fringe grey sea;
Still falls a ghostly pall of haze
Lowering chill on rocky shore.

Savage waves, boisterous, lash grim crags;
Hungry waves, clamorous, pound and roar:
More, more, more!

These were all written in the last two years or so of Anne Bremer’s life, after she developed leukemia.  Shall I post some more?

What’s the header image?

It’s from a postcard representing the Golden Gate and the Panama Pacific International Exposition that took place in the Marina District of San Francisco in 1915. Albert Bender helped make insurance arrangements for the fair. Anne Bremer exhibited five paintings and was awarded a Bronze Medal.

A portion of the dome and arcade of the Palace of Fine Arts (where Anne’s work was shown) is at the lower left of the image.  The Palace of Fine Arts was designed by Bernard Maybeck and still stands today, the only remnant of the exposition, after a series of restorations.


For several years I have been researching and writing about late-19th-century and early-20th-century California art, architecture, museums and patronage. My major long-term project is a dual biography tentatively titled Kissing Cousins, AMB and AMB: The Artistic Lives of San Francisco’s Albert M. Bender and Anne M. Bremer. Meanwhile, I would like to introduce you to these two remarkable people who had a major impact on the Bay Area cultural landscape.

Anne Bremer (1868-1923) was a highly regarded San Francisco-based artist, noteworthy for her interest in modernism and experimentation, especially after she studied in New York and Paris in 1910-1911. She held a number of leadership roles in the Bay Area art community. Her career was cut tragically short by leukemia. Albert Bender (1866-1941) was her cousin and beloved life partner. A successful insurance broker, he became a major patron of artists, museums, libraries, and performing arts organizations. Through Anne’s influence, he was particularly open to modernism, and he helped establish what are now the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and Mills College Art Museum.

To read more, click on “About Albert Bender” and “About Anne Bremer” at the top of this page.