88 Slag Buddhas

 Posted by on January 19, 2018
Jan 192018
Slag Buddhas on Naoshima

Slag Buddha 88 by Tsuyoshi Ozawa

The 88 Buddha statuettes are a reference to the 88 temples of the Shikoku Pilgrimage.

They are made of slag that was illegally dumped on neighborhing Teshima Island, which is also part of their story.

From 1978 to 1990,  Teshima Island was used as a dump site for paper making residue, sadly they were actually dumping highly toxic waste as well.

Due to a corrupt prefecture government and the fact that the island was remote and sparsely populated, it took until the year 2000 for the people of the island to receive a resolution. The Prefecture of Kagawa admitted that the now-defunct disposal firm Teshima Sogo Kanko Kaihatsu Company had run the illegal dumps and the prefecture was forced to clean the site. The process required that 500,000 tons of soil and rocks be dug out, and moved to nearby Naoshima where it is melted down, detoxified, and transformed into slag to be reused as aggregate in concrete.

88 slag buddhas on Naoshima

Tsuyoshi Ozawa was born 1965 in Tokyo. As a student at Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music, Ozawa began his “Jizo-ing” series in which he photographs statues of Jizo that he makes himself situated in different environments In 1993, he began his Nasubi Gallery series of portable, miniature galleries made from milk boxes, and his “Consultation Art.” In 1999, he produced his “Museum of Soy Sauce Art” remakes of masterpieces from Japanese art history painted with soy sauce, and in 2001, began his “Vegetable Weapon” series of photographic portraits of young women holding weapons made of vegetables. He had his first solo museum exhibition “Answer with Yes and No!” at the Mori Art Museum, Tokyo in 2004, and among his solo exhibitions since is “The Invisible Runner Strides on” (2009) held at the Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art.

Pumpkins on Naoshima

 Posted by on January 19, 2018
Jan 192018


Pumpkin on Naoshima

This pumpkin sits on a pier on the island of Naoshima.  The first art project for the Benesse art site was Open Air ’94 Out of Bounds, organized as an outdoor exhibition space in 1994. Out of Bounds referred to the crossing of borders in hope that Naoshima be linked to the rest of the world.  Pumpkin (the yellow one) by Yayoi Kusama made its debut in this exhibition.

Red Pumpkin by Yayoi Kusama

Yayoi Kusama (1929-) is a Japanese contemporary artist who works primarily in sculpture and installation but is also active in painting, performance, film, fashion, poetry, fiction, and other arts. During the 1960s she was a part of the New York avant-garde scene, especially in the pop-art movement. Since participating in the Japanese pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 1993 she has been exhibiting actively and has gained widespread international recognition. In 2017 a fifty-year retrospective of her work opened at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington DC. Also that year the Yayoi Kusama Museum was inaugurated in Tokyo.

Kusama creates a four-metre-tall red pumpkin for the ‘Naoshima Standard Exhibition’,

Inside the 13 foot tall Red Pumpkin that Kusama created for the ‘Naoshima Standard Exhibition’ in 2006

Pumpkin Yoyoi Kusumo Naoshima


Treasure Island Artwork Spread Far and Wide

 Posted by on September 12, 2017
Sep 122017


The Pacific Fountain on Treasure Island

Sometimes you are given an opportunity to peek behind the scenes and today I had just one of those magical moments.  Anne Schnoebelen, the passionate author of the website asked me to come see the Pacific Fountain and bring along my friend Deborah Blake of Sullivan Masonry, to see about the restoration of the fountain.

The fountain has quite a fabulous history.  It was part of The Golden Gate International Exposition (GGIE) a World’s Fair held on Treasure Island. The fair, celebrated, among other things, the city’s two newly built bridges. The San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge which opened in 1936 and the Golden Gate Bridge which had opened in 1937. The exposition was open from February 18, 1939, through October 29, 1939, and from May 25, 1940, through September 29, 1940.

The fountain, which was situated in the Pacific House during the GGIE, was a massive coordination between artist Antonio Sotomayor, architect Philip Newell Youtz and the Gladding McBean Company of Lincoln, California.

I highly suggest you head to Anne’s site to read all about the history of the fountain and its construction.

Pacific Fountain GGIE

This is what the fountain looks like today.

Pacific Fountain GGIE

The restoration would be a major undertaking, including finding an appropriate place to house it, but the Treasure Island Museum hopes to do just that.

The fountain was accompanied in the Pacific House by six murals by Jose Miquel Covarrubias titled Pageant of the Pacific.

Mural by Jose Miquel Covarrubias

Jose Miguel Covarrubias, “Flora and Fauna”

Five of the murals still exist and are on loan from the San Francisco Treasure Island Development Authority to the DeYoung Museum.

It would be a wonderful San Francisco moment if these items could be brought together into one location and enjoyed together as a tribute to the Pacific.

Pacific Fountain GGIE Treasure Island

The statues at the back of the room are some of the twenty sculptures created for the Court of the Pacific.  Some are available for viewing in front of Building One. 

If you are interested in donating to the  Treasure Island Museum you can do so here.  You are welcome to earmark your dollars for the restoration of the fountain.  If you are a history buff and a financial angel, the museum would love to hear from you, you can reach out to Anne Schnoebelen through the museum.

The artists:

Antonio Sotomayor (1902-1985) was born in Chulumani, Bolivia on May 13, 1902, Sotomayor began his art studies in La Paz under Belgian master Adolf Lambert and by age 15 was contributing illustrations to Bolivian periodicals. After settling in San Francisco in 1923, he continued his art training at the CSFA. He taught art at Mills College in Oakland (1942-43) and at the CSFA (1946-50) Sotomayor contributed greatly to California art for over 60 years.

Antonio Sotomayor

Philip Newell Youtz (1895-1972) was born April 27, 1895, in Quincy, Massachusetts. He was educated at Amherst College (1918) and Oberlin College (1919). During the period 1920-1922, he built schools and a non-sectarian Chinese Christian College in Canton, China. Upon his return, he taught at Teachers College, Columbia University. After receiving his architectural degree from Columbia University in 1929, he became curator of the Sixty-Ninth St. branch of the Pennsylvania Museum of Art in Philadelphia. In 1933 he became assistant director of the Brooklyn Museum of Art and served as director from 1934 to 1938. From 1938 to 1940, he was director of Pacific House at the Golden Gate International Exposition and the Pacific Area in San Francisco. Following the war where he served with the War Production Board, Youtz was a practicing architect in the New York City area. Here he invented the “lift slab” method of construction in which concrete slabs are raised on supporting columns to form different stories of a building. He eventually landed at the University of Michigan in 1957, where he was soon named dean of the College of Architecture and Design, a post he held until his retirement in 1964.Philip Newell Youtz

Jose Miguel Covarrubias (1904 — 1957)  was born November 22, 1904, in Mexico City. After graduating from the Escuela Nacional Preparatoria at the age of 14, he started producing caricatures and illustrations for texts and training materials published by the Mexican Ministry of Public Education. At the age of 19, he moved to New York City armed with a grant from the Mexican government. Mexican poet José Juan Tablada and New York Times critic/photographer Carl Van Vechten introduced him to New York’s literary/cultural elite. Soon Covarrubias was drawing for several top magazines, eventually becoming one of Vanity Fair magazine’s premier caricaturists.

Jose Miquel CovarrubiasGladding, McBean is a ceramics company located in Lincoln, California. It is one of the oldest companies in California, a pioneer in ceramics technology, and a company which has “contributed immeasurably” to the state’s industrialization. During the heyday of architectural terra cotta, the company “dominated the industry in California and the Far West.

Frank Stella at 222 2nd

 Posted by on September 9, 2017
Sep 092017

222 Second Street

222 2nd Street San Francisco

Frank Stella was born in 1936 in Malden, Massachusetts. He studied painting at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts and at Princeton University. After graduating, he moved to New York and began his career with his renowned series, Black Paintings.

These two pieces by Stella are titled “Riallaro”; a 1997, pixel painting. “The Pequod Meets the Delight”; a 1992, pixel painting,  purchased for $1million.

This area is a Privately Owned Public Open Space in San Francisco.  Open to the public for enjoyment during business hours.

Glass Goddesses

 Posted by on September 9, 2017
Sep 092017

Trinity Plaza
Market at 8th
April 2017

Trinity PlazaTrinity Plaza falls under the 1% for Art program.  Although the project began construction several years ago, the public space areas are not yet complete.  The concept for the public space  (titled “C’era Una Volta” – Once Upon a Time) was developed by artist Lawrence Argent.

The overall composition of the open space is comprised of glass and marble sculptures, a stone wall and assemblage of blocks evocative of a quarry, and several scattered marble blocks with partially carved sculptures that appear to emerge from the stone.

Two of these glass sculptures can now be seen at the entry, although a large grate still prevents the public from entering the park area.  These two sculptures sit atop a mosaic tile floor patterned from an ancient Pompeiian mosaic.  It is made of Bardiglio marble, Carrara white marble and Chinese Black granite.

Trinity Plaza Glass sculpture

The glass sculptures are 3/4” thick tempered clear glass with a hollow cavity inside.  There are LED lights sculpted within that will change colors.

Argent obtained a B.A. in sculpture from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, Australia and an M.F.A. from Rinehart School of Sculpture, Maryland Institute, College of Art, Baltimore, Maryland.

Nature of Medicine

 Posted by on September 9, 2017
Sep 092017

San Francisco General Hospital
1001 Potrero Avenue
Potrero Hill
Main Lobby of the New Wing

Image by Arla Escontrias for SFGHF

Image by Arla Escontrias for SFGHF

When you enter the lobby of the new wing you are overwhelmed by color.  The two glass mosaics and the terrazzo floor are all done by Oakland artist, Rupert Garcia, done in 2015 they are titled Nature of Medicine.

The floor art piece measures 88 feet by 52 feet. The mosaic mural above the reception desk is 190 inches by 359-1/2 inches and the mural above the stairs measures 252-7/8 inches by 305 inches

Tile mosaic in the stairwell leading to the second floor

Tile mosaic in the stairwell leading to the second floor

Rupert García, born in French Camp, California, is a Chicano artist who works in poster paint, oils and pastels.  He studied painting and received numerous student honors from Stockton Junior College and San Francisco State University (SFSU), where he was influenced by Photo Realism.

Rupert Garcia has a piece at the San Francisco International airport that you can read about here.

This installation was part of a $7million budget and is the responsibility of the San Francisco Art Commission.



 Posted by on August 11, 2017
Aug 112017

San Francisco General Hospital
1001 Potrero Avenue
Potrero Hill

Archipelago at SFGHTitled Archipelago this piece is based on the concept of a river as a metaphor for life.  It was created by Anna Valentina Murch and sits in the plaza connecting the old and new buildings of the hospital complex. An important feature of the installation is a 6’-tall oval-shaped stainless steel banded sculpture, which is internally illuminated at night to serve as a symbolic beacon. Additionally, a series of basket-like, stainless steel banded sculptural seating elements surround planters and companion carved granite benches.

SFGH Benches

Murch was born in Scotland and grew up in London, where she earned degrees from the University of Leicester, the Royal College of Art and the Architectural Association. Murch had an interest in art installations, sculptures, and ecological design. She often collaborated with her husband Douglas Hollis, who is an environmental artist.

Murch came to the Bay Area in the 1970s and taught at the San Francisco Art Institute and UC Berkeley She began teaching at Mills College as a professor of studio art at Mills college in 1991, she passed away in 2014.

Marble benches part of SFGH Archipelago by Murch

This installation was purchased by the San Francisco Arts Commission for $826,800.

Breath Between Sky and Ocean

 Posted by on August 9, 2017
Aug 092017

San Francisco General Hospital
1001 Potrero Avenue
Potrero Hill
Roof Garden of the Acute Care Building
7th Floor

Breath Between Sky and Ocean by Masayuki Nagase

Breath Between Sky and Ocean by Masayuki Nagase was created in 2015 and consists of two hand-carved granite boulders (4 ft. by 4 ft. by 4 ft.), five polished and carved granite benches (5 ft. by 6 ft. by 18 in. each) and eight polished and carved pavers.

Masayuki Nagase SFGHThe artist’s design depicts a series of ripples carved into the boulders to express themes of water and wind, and the design on the stone pavers has polished surfaces and carved cloud-like forms.

SFGH Roof Garden

Masayuki Nagase was born in Kyoto, Japan. He began his career as an artist by studying painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Tokyo from 1968-1971. From 1971-1976 he trained in a traditional stone-carving apprenticeship in the granite quarries of Inada in Ibaragi-ken, Japan.

In 1995, Nagase became a resident of the US and established a studio with his wife, Michele Ku in Berkeley, California.

These pieces were purchased by the San Francisco Arts Commission for $200,000.

River of Time

 Posted by on August 8, 2017
Aug 082017

San Francisco General Hospital
1001 Potrero Avenue
Potrero Hill
Acute Care Building
7th Floor

River of Time

This piece, titled River of Time, is in three pieces.  The above piece is at the end of a short hallway on the 7th floor. The other two, however, are behind locked doors.  I was able to snap a photo of the others when the doors were opened by a staff member.

River of Time consists of a curved glass wall 98-2/8 inches by 97-3/8 inches and the two glass light-well walls in a corridor that measure 93-5/8 inches by 246 inches. All are stained glass panels. The artist’s concept is budding tree branches suspended above a calm riverbed in mostly blue hues.

River of Time by Alan Masaoka

Alan Masaoka was raised in San Francisco, California, and has been working with glass since 1975. He attended Pilchuck Glass School in the state of Washington.

Masaoka began his first glass business, Architectural Glass Design, in Seattle in 1975. In 1980 Masaoka moved to the Monterey Peninsula and established Masaoka Glass Design. He moved his studio to the Carmel Valley in 1998.

Masaoka is known for his unique signature style of contemporary leaded glasswork, incorporating bevels and hand-blown German art glass. His work also includes etched glass, reverse glass painting, kiln cast and fused glass techniques.


These were commissioned by the San Francisco Arts Commission for $144,579.


 Posted by on August 8, 2017
Aug 082017

Philip A. Hart Civic Center Plaza
Jefferson and Woodward Avenues
Detroit, Michigan

Pylon by Isamu Noguchi

120 feet tall by 7 feet square The Pylon is the terminus for Detroit’s main street, Woodward Avenue.

Created by Isamu Noguchi, the monumental work is of joined steel sections.   The rectangular pylon makes a quarter turn as it heads upwards to the sky.

Isamu Noguchi (November 17, 1904 – December 30, 1988) was a Japanese American artist and landscape architect whose artistic career spanned six decades, from the 1920s onward. Known for his sculpture and public works, Noguchi also designed stage sets for various Martha Graham productions, and several mass-produced lamps and furniture pieces, such as the Noguchi table for Herman Miller, some of which are still manufactured and sold.

Belle Isle

 Posted by on August 4, 2017
Aug 042017

Belle Isle
Detroit, Michigan

Belle Island

The James Scott Memorial Fountain was designed by architect Cass Gilbert and sculptor Herbert Adams, the fountain was completed in 1925 at a cost of $500,000

Belle Isle is a 982-acre island park in the Detroit River, between the United States mainland and Canada. Belle Isle is the largest city-owned island park in the United States and is the third largest island in the Detroit River. It is connected to mainland Detroit by the MacArthur Bridge.

One interesting story told about the island is part of Motor City history. It is said that one night in 1908 Byron Carter of Cartercar stopped to help a stranded motorist on Belle Isle. When he cranked her Cadillac, it kicked back and broke his jaw. Complications from the injury turned into pneumonia and he died. The incident motivated Henry Leland, founder of Cadillac Motors to state that “The Cadillac car will kill no more men if we can help it” and to hire Charles Kettering, who established Delco and developed the electric self-starter.

Belle Island

James Scott was left a sizable fortune by his father who invested in Detroit real estate. Scott was described by twentieth-century author W. Hawkins Ferry as a “vindictive, scurrilous misanthrope” who attempted to intimidate his business competitors and when this was unsuccessful, he filed suit. Perhaps for these reasons, Scott died in 1910 with no heirs or colleagues and he bequeathed his estate to the City of Detroit with the condition that the fountain include a life-sized bronze statue of him.

Belle Island Bell Tower

The Nancy Brown Peace Carillon

The 85-foot Neo-Gothic carillon cost nearly $59,000 when it was built. The tower was designed by Clarence E. Day, brother-in-law of James E. Scripps, the publisher of the Detroit News. The builder was Harlow A. Amsbary. Nancy Brown was the pen name of a Detroit News columnist who wrote the Experience Column from 1919 to January of 1942. Her real name was Annie Louise Brown.

The concept of the Peace Carillon came from a reader. In 1934, Nancy Brown promoted the idea in her column. It was built by readers who sent in nickels and dimes through Brown’s fundraiser and dedicated in 1940.

Belle Island Conservatory

The Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory is the oldest continually-running conservatory in the United States. It is named for Anna Scripps Whitcomb, who left her collection of 600 orchids to Detroit in 1955. Anna Scripps Whitcomb was the daughter of The Detroit News founder James E. Scripps

belle island conservatory

Outside of this Conservatory sits a Japanese Stone Lantern made of white granite. The lantern, or Tohro as it is traditionally called, was presented to the City of Detroit by their sister city, Toyota, to commemorate the 25th year of their sister city relations. The lantern is inscribed with the Japanese word for “friendship”. Behind the lantern is the Levi L. Barbour Memorial Fountain, designed by sculptor Marshall Fredericks and dedicated June 25, 1937. Barbour was an industrialist who pushed for Detroit acquiring Belle Isle, and left money to the City to erect a monument in his honor “in order to inspire others to be charitable.”

Construction began in 1902 on the Aquarium and Horticultural Building, as it was called then. The two buildings, designed by famed Detroit architect Albert Kahn, opened on August 18, 1904, and were originally joined where one could walk between the two structures without leaving the building.

Belle Island Aquarium

The Belle Isle Aquarium is the oldest aquarium in the country. In 2005, the city of Detroit announced that the Aquarium was to be closed due to lean economic times for the city. The building remained closed to the public until the Belle Isle Conservancy reopened it on September 15, 2012.

The lily pond is located between the conservatory building and the Belle Isle Aquarium. It was not part of the original design, but constructed in 1936. The rocky walls were created with 200 tons of moss-covered limestone boulders that were brought from the construction of the Livingstone Channel in the Detroit River near Amherstburg, Ontario. The pond is home to Japanese koi that are maintained by volunteers and are held in the aquarium basement during winter.

The lily pond is located between the conservatory building and the Belle Isle Aquarium. It was not part of the original design but constructed in 1936. The rocky walls were created with 200 tons of moss-covered limestone boulders that were brought from the construction of the Livingstone Channel in the Detroit River near Amherstburg, Ontario. The pond is home to Japanese koi that are maintained by volunteers and are held in the Aquarium basement during winter.

Belle Isle is the embodiment of what it is to live in Michigan, spending summers on the water.  Beach goers and picnickers abound on Belle Isle in the summer.  Signs of family reunions, birthday parties, and get-togethers are everywhere, parking is plentiful and all types of water activities available to those that visit the island.

FLW in Detroit

 Posted by on August 3, 2017
Aug 032017

The Melvyn Maxwell Smith and Sara Stein Smith House
Bloomfield, Michigan
Frank Lloyd Wright

The Melvyn Maxwell Smith and Sara Stein Smith House also known as My Haven is a Frank Lloyd Wright designed Usonian home that was built by the owner/occupants in 1949 and 1950. The Smiths were two public school teachers living on a tight budget, to realize their dream they scrimped and scraped in ways most people would never consider, but the reward is this wonderful gem.

It is said that Mr. Smith, upon seeing a photo of Falling Water for the first time while studying to become a teacher, stood up in class and said: “One day I will own a Frank Lloyd Wright home”.

Usonian HomeIn the summer of 1941, the Smiths traveled to Taliesin, met with Wright, and he agreed to design a home for them with an initial budget of approximately $9,000.00.

In the summer of 1946, the Smiths took their entire savings of $3,600 and purchased the 3.3 acres the home would sit upon.

FLW signed tile

FLW would present his famous mark a red ceramic tile with his signature to many of the designated buildings that met his requirements and approval – a visible sign he accepted the structure as “truly- totally-Wright”.

Architect William Wesley Peters,  who served as president of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, wrote that Wright “never had clients who were greater in the sense of love and appreciation than Melvyn Maxwell and Sara Smith. It was a two-way road because the more that came back to Frank Lloyd Wright, the more he gave, so it was a double gain

FLW in DetroitOn Wright’s advice, Smith acted as his own general contractor in order to save money and maintain the quality standards he expected. He recruited skilled workers who wanted to work on a home designed by Wright so much that they would accept lower pay than usual. Suppliers of building materials also provided goods such as 14,000 board feet of red tidewater cypress lumber at discounted prices because of their wish to be involved with a Wright project.  Shopping center developer A. Alfred Taubman provided all of the windows at a deep discount because he considered the house a “fantastic structure”.

Wright visited the house himself in 1951, and called it “my little gem”. He visited the house again in 1953 and 1957.

Frank Lloyd Wright in Detroit

In 1957, Melvyn Smith met with landscape architect Thomas Dolliver Church who visited the home and stayed for a spaghetti dinner prepared by Sara Smith. Church spent the night as their guest, and the following morning, produced a landscape plan on the spot for a nominal fee

Detroit Usonian Home

The home is located near the Cranbrook Educational Community, and over the years, the Smiths built an extensive art collection by Cranbrook artists that fill the house today.

The home, while still in private hands, is open for tours and special events. 

Frank Lloyd Wright Detroit Usonian Home
Usonia was a word used by Frank Lloyd Wright to refer to his vision for the landscape of the United States, including the planning of cities and the architecture of buildings. Wright proposed the use of the adjective Usonian in place of American to describe the particular New World character of the American landscape as distinct and free of previous architectural conventions.Smith Frank lloyd Wright home DetroitThe home is now on the National Register of Historic Places.

Photos are not allowed inside the home, but this lamp style is carried throughout the house.

Photos are not allowed inside the home, but this lamp style is carried throughout the house.

Frank lloyd Wright Designed Gate

Detroit’s Guardian Building

 Posted by on August 2, 2017
Aug 022017

500 Griswold Street
Detroit, Michigan

The Guardian Building

There has been so very, very much written about the Guardian Building of Detroit, that my writing here is simply for me to remember this stunning building and that I had the pleasure of walking into it and staring.

The Guardian Building of Detroit

The building is so massive it is difficult to photograph in its entirety, the roof line is exquisite and also hard to see when standing on the ground.

Built for the Union Trust Company the building is 486 feet tall with 40 floors and was the second tallest building in Detroit and the world’s tallest brick building when it opened in 1929.

Designed by Wirt Rowland of  Smith, Hichman, and Grylls it came in at a cost of $12million.

The tangerine colored “Guardian Brick” was formulated by Rowland and there were almost 2 million bricks used in its construction, he chose these specifically because they were cheaper than other materials.

This tiled semi-circular dome sits over the main entrance which includes a person with outstretched arms who serves to welcome people into the building. While difficult to see the figure is also winged. The wings represent aviation, which was experiencing a boom during the time of the building's construction

Pewabic Pottery can be seen on the lower portion of the building’s exterior facade, but from the brick up, the tiles are from the Atlantic Terra Cotta Company.The Guardian Building from afar

The Guardian Building Detroit

This tiled semi-circular dome sits over the main entrance which includes a person with outstretched arms who serves to welcome people into the building. While difficult to see the figure is also winged. The wings represent aviation, which was experiencing a boom during the time of the building’s construction

On either side of the tiled entryway dome are these carved figures by Corrado Parducci. These exterior figures hold swords in their hands representing security and safety, to ensure depositors their money is safe.

On either side of the tiled entryway, dome are these carved figures by Corrado Parducci. These exterior figures hold swords in their hands representing security and safety, to ensure depositors their money is safe.

Guardian Building

Even the tree planters on the exterior of the building celebrate the "notched arch" design that can be found throughout the building

Even the tree planters and the flag poles on the exterior of the building celebrate the “notched” design that can be found throughout the building.

flag poles on the Guardian

 Nicknamed “The Cathedral of Finance” the building held the money of one in every four bank depositors in the City of Detroit.

Guardian Building

Upon entering the building you will be overwhelmed with the arched ceiling covered in Rookwood tile from the Rookwood Pottery company of Cincinnati, Ohio.

Guardian Building

This pledge sits directly over the reception desk

Guardian Building Detroit

At the end of the two elevator bays are these stained glass angelic figures

The elevator doors are etched and painted

The elevator doors are etched and painted

The Guardian Building

Entry to the Banking Hall is through an elaborate grill of Monel metal.  Monel is a mixture of copper, nickel, and aluminum. Above the entryway is the original Tiffany clock.

Guardian Buildings Tiffany Clock

Looking at the Tiffany clock while standing in the Banking Hall

Ezra Winter Mural

The Banking Hall is dominated by a mural by Ezra Winter representing Michigan and her industries.

Guardian Building

The ceiling was stenciled by Anthony Eugenio who cut the entire ceiling himself. A crew of 10 painters used a pallet of 16 colors. Solid gold leaf adorns the sunburst arches; the rays of the sunbursts spread from the center of the ceiling down along the columns.

The tables of the bank also contain the notched design

The tables of the bank also contain the notched design

The attention to detail in every square inch of this building truly does make it one of the greatest in Detroit.  The building is open to the public on the ground floor with retail in the Banking Hall.  Tours are given of the building on weekends by Pure Detroit.

Detroit’s Renaissance

 Posted by on August 1, 2017
Aug 012017

Book Building/Tower Detroit

The Book Building at 1249 Washington Blvd, Downtown Detroit

So much has been written about Detroit’s decline, and yet so little has been written about its renaissance.  Yes, the outlying areas have a long way to go, but the new construction and renovations happening in the downtown area are staggering.  This post by no means covers the enormous amount of renovation occurring, these are just a few of this author’s favorite buildings.

Book Building Detroit

The Book Building, designed by Louis Kamper for the Book brothers, was built in 1917, the tower was added in 1926. There was considerable criticism about the building looking more like a wedding cake than an office building when it was erected, this author, however, has a fondness for caryatids and found the building charming. The building is undergoing a projected $400 million renovation by Bedrock Real Estate Services.

The book building Detroit

The Grand Army of the Republic Hall at 1942 Grand River Avenue in the West Necklace neighborhood

The GAR building

The Grand Army of the Republic Building was designed by architect Julius Hess, and constructed in 1887 as a structure for meetings and other GAR related activities. The cost was split between the Grand Army of the Republic ( $6000 of the cost) and the city of Detroit (the remainder of the $44,000 total cost).

McKim Meade and White

State Savings Bank at 151 West Fort Street and Shelby.

State Savings Bank of Detroit

This is the only building in Detroit designed by McKim, Mead, and White, it was built in 1900.

Photo from Wikipedia

Photo from Wikipedia

Slated for demolition in 2014, the building was purchased by a private investor. The owner did not disclose the purchase price or possible plans, however one rumored use could be an auto museum.

The Fisher Building at 3011 West Grand Avenue.

Fischer Building Detroit

The interior of the Fisher Building is a wonder to behold and a stroll through the enormous lobby is not to be missed.  Named the “Building of the Century” by Detroit AIA this 1927 building, commissioned by the Fisher Brothers, was designed by eminent Detroit architect Albert Kahn. The Fisher family financed the building with proceeds from the sale of Fisher Body to General Motors

Fisher Building Detroit

The attention to detail on the exterior of the building is also worth noting.

Fisher Building Detroit

*Fisher Building

The three-story vaulted arcade is finished with forty different varieties of marble and ornamentation extolling the virtues of commerce, industry, and arts.
Fisher Building

It is almost impossible to explain the interior ceiling murals.

Fisher Building

The eagles with their wings slightly open, ready to take flight, symbolize an America ready to advance to greater things. Other eagles in and on the Fisher have their wings outstretched, symbolizing the power of the United States. Those with their wings tucked in, in a sheltering manner, show the nation’s strength and that it is sound.

The frescos, mosaics, and sculpture were designed by Geza R. Maroti, an artist from Budapest, Hungary. The artwork represents two major ideas: the wealth and power of the U.S. expressed through commerce and transportation, and American culture and civilization through music and drama.

Fisher Building Detroit

Artists from Detroit’s Cranbrook School and an army of European artists worked on the interiors.

Fisher Building Detroit

Set into the floor, is a large bronze shield in low relief. It featured a semi-nude figure of Mercury — the god of transportation and bearer of messages. Sadly, the details have been mostly eroded by decades of Detroiters walking over it. It has been roped off to prevent further damage.

Fisher Building Detroit

Along the walls of the arcade are 26 lunettes with symbolical designs and subjects such as Agriculture, Art, Justice, Knowledge, Music, Navigation, Peace, and Thrift.

Fisher Building Detroit

The elaborate frescoes were also designed by Maroti but carried out by artists Antonio and Tomas de Lorenzo of New York City.

Fisher Building Detroit

The corridors on every floor are marble-faced with cove ceilings. The window sills are marble.

The Buhl Building at 535 Griswold

Buhl Building Detroit

The exterior ornamentation of the Buhl Building is what drew me in. Designed by Smith, Hinchman, and Grylls in 1925 it showcases the sculpture of Corrado Parducci and tiles of Mary Chase Perry Stratton, of Pewabic Pottery.

Buhl Building Detroit

The entryway vaulted ceilings are designed to be the night sky, and the tiles were produced by Pewabic Pottery.

Buhl Building

Mies van der Rohe in Lafayette Park

The Mies van der Rohe Residential District is both an outstanding example of Modernist architecture and one of America’s most successful post-World War II urban redevelopment projects. Three distinct sections cover the 46-acre project: 21 multiple-unit townhomes (pictured below) and a high-rise apartment building, 13 acre Lafayette Park consisting of recreation facilities, and a school and finally twin apartment towers and a shopping center. In 1956 developer Herbert Greenwald brought together architect Mies van der Rohe, city planner Ludwig Hilberseimer, and landscape architect Alfred Caldwell to create an “integrated community” that would “attract people back to the heart of the city.”

Mies Van der Rohe in Detroit

 Michigan Central Train Station in Corktown near the Ambassador Bridge

Michigan Central Train Station

This Beaux-Arts Classical style train station was designed by the Warren & Wetmore and Reed & Stem, the same firms who designed New York City’s Grand Central Terminal.

When the 18 stories tall train station opened 1913, it was the tallest train station in the world and one of the tallest buildings in the city of Detroit. The high-rise part of the building was originally built to house offices; the depot itself is three stories tall. Part of what makes the building so visually striking is the fact that no other tall structures are immediately nearby.

Primarily due to the success of Detroit’s own auto industry the last train to ever leave Michigan Central Station pulled away in January of 1988 and the building has sat unoccupied ever since.

The building is owned by the Moroun family, who also owns the Ambassador Bridge. Neglect has brought this Nationally Registered landmark close to demolition on more than one occasion. It had all 1050 windows replaced in 2015 and hopes are that more will be done to preserve this gem.

The last of the buildings in this strange wanderings is the Dymaxion House at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn.

Dymaxion House

This aluminum house, designed by Buckminster Fuller in 1929, was meant to handle the masses of servicemen returning from the war.  It was to be mass-produced, easily reused, and completely recyclable.

Built on a central core holding much of the utilities, the house radiated out from there

Built on a central core holding much of the utilities, the house radiated out from there

Market expectations, continual design changes, and other setbacks kept the house from being a reality, but the fact that its hybrid sits in the Ford Museum makes for fun viewing.

There are truly so many fabulous buildings, and history, in Detroit.  If you are going, I suggest adding a considerable amount of extra time to explore the many, many office buildings, churches and government buildings that make up this amazingly architectural rich city.

Heidelberg Project

 Posted by on July 31, 2017
Jul 312017

3600 Heidelberg St
McDougall Hunt Neighborhood
Detroit, Michigan

Heidelberg Project

Just 15 minutes away from the African Bead Museum is the Heidelberg Project.  I went anticipating a fabulous folk art installation due to all the hype, disappointing is the kindest word I can use. That being said, the motivation behind the project and the heart poured into it, should not ever be dismissed.

Heidelberg project detroit

There are three over riding themes to the Heidelberg project: clocks, faces, and shoes.  The clocks are to remind you that it is never too late to act.  You may think you do not have the time, or it is too late, but no, it is always time to act.


Heidelberg project Detroit

There are faces everywhere, these are the faces of God.

Heidelberg Project

The shoes represent the “soul”. Do not judge me until you walk a mile in my shoes.

Heidelberg project detroit

The Polka Dot House is where Tyree’s mother and sisters live.

The Heidelberg Project is the brainchild of Tyree Guyton who was assisted by his wife, Karen, and grandfather Sam Mackey. Guyton is a painter and sculptor described as an urban environmental artist.  Like others, he has waged a personal war on urban blight on Detroit’s East Side, transforming his neighborhood into a living indoor/outdoor art gallery. Through his art, Guyton has drawn attention to the plight of Detroit’s forgotten neighborhoods and spurred discussion and action.  The strength in this installation is the fact that it is a political protest. Guyton’s childhood neighborhood began to deteriorate after the 1967 riots, coming back to Heidelberg Street after serving in the Army, Guyton was astonished to see that the surrounding neighborhood looked as if “a bomb went off”.

Heidelberg Project

Guyton started by painting his Mother’s house with bright dots of many colors and attaching salvaged items to the houses in the neighborhood. It was a constantly evolving work that transformed a hard-core inner city neighborhood where people were afraid to walk, even in daytime, into one in which neighbors took pride. While Tyree’s work is truly inspirational and excellent, for some reason the Heidelberg Project does not reflect the high quality of artistic ability that the man possesses.

Heidelberg Project

However, he is a strong member of his community and includes children whenever he can, which is possibly reflected in the work, in other words, it is more community art than individual art. The city of Detroit has destroyed many of the installations and yet it stands as a true testament to the power of creativity in creating hope and a bright vision for the future.
Heidelberg Project

*Heildelberg Project

*Heidelberg Project

*Heidelberg Project


The neighborhood seems to be mixed about the project.  There are signs everywhere asking that you do not photograph the homes or the occupants, and at the same time, they sit on their stoops asking for money to help with their repairs.  The more enterprising sell water, and snacks.  They are all so very friendly, however, that handing over a buck or two is done with pleasure.

African Bead Museum

 Posted by on July 25, 2017
Jul 252017

Dabls’ MBAD African Bead Museum
6559 Grand River Avenue
Detroit, Michigan

Dabbles African Bead Museum

*African Bead Museum

I had the absolute privilege to speak with Olayami Dabls, the creator of Dabls’ African Bead Museum (pictured above), and he told me some of his story.  He began this project during the Clean Up Detroit program, a project to help clear all of the empty lots of the trash and building parts left after many homes were bulldozed.

This house, now in the hands of an architect, was once owned by the City.

The N’kisi Iron House, now in the hands of an architect, was once owned by the City.

The African Language Wall

The African Language Wall

He repeated often, how he was surprised the city had not shut him down and how happy he was to just keep doing what he was doing.  He did point out that an architect had purchased the building next door from the city. Olayami offered to remove all the art, the architect was happy with it just the way it is, and I for one am very glad that he saw the value in what this folk art brings to this part of town. I highly doubt the city is going to stop him anytime soon as the museum has received a $100,000 grant from theKnight Foundation . If you are interested in helping with matching funds you can do so here.

African Bead Museum

Photo from African Bead Museum website

There is a very complete bead shop on the first floor of 6559 for shopping to your heart’s content.

African Bead MuseumOlayami Dabls’ visual story telling uses a wide range of materials. His work uses references from African material culture to tell stories about the human condition. Using iron, rock,  wood, and mirrors, Dabls found that these four materials are primary building blocks that speak universally to all cultures.

The audience watches

“Yeah, the students are made out of rocks. The exhibit is Iron Teaching Rocks How to Rust.  And, of course, rocks cannot rust, but you can teach people to believe pretty much anything you want them to believe. And they will.” Olayami Dbals.  From an interview to Michigan Radio

The teacher


A mad hatter's tea party?

A mad hatter’s tea party?

Detroits African Bead Museum
Dabls moved to Detroit with his parents from Mississippi because of the political and social unrest in the South during the 60s.

“In the years between 1975-1985, Dabls joined the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History as a curator and artist-in-residence. There, he learned how challenging it was to talk about the civil rights movement because in talking about emotionally charged history, there is no fixed perspective, only the memories, and experiences of millions of individuals. This inspired him to create the African Bead Museum as a space for communal understanding through his own sculptures and his collection of African material culture.”

African Bead Museum Detroit

*African Bead Museum

*African Bead Museum in Detroit

*African Bead Museum of Detroit

*African Bead Museum in Detroit

*African Bead Museum

Thank you Olayami Dabls for bringing such beauty and brightness to a small corner of Detroit.

For those of you that are curious, and have gotten to this point and wondered, MBAD are the initials of Olayami’s children.  Their names are: Makada, Barkan, Alake and Davida, and please, forgive me all four of you if I have spelled them wrong.

Pewabic Pottery

 Posted by on July 24, 2017
Jul 242017

1025 Jefferson Avenue
Detroit, Michigan


Pewabic PotteryPewabic Pottery is a ceramic studio and school founded in 1903 by artist Mary Chase Perry Stratton and Horace James Caulkins.

Caulkins was considered a high-heat and kiln specialist, and developed the “Revelation kiln”.  Caulkins invented the kiln to help with his dental supply business, he then sold his kilns to other dentists so they could fire enamel for their patients.

Mary Perry Stratton was “the artistic and marketing force. Mary Stratton established the ceramics department at the University of Michigan and taught there. She also taught at Wayne State University. In 1947, she received the highest award in the American ceramic field, the Charles Fergus Binns Medal.

The collaboration of two and their blend of art and technology gave the pottery its historic place in the International Arts and Crafts movement exemplifying the American Craftsman Style.

Pewabic Pottery

The pottery continues in operation today and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1991.

The word Pewabic is derived from the Ojibwa (or Chippewa) word “wabic”, which means metal, or “bewabic”, which means iron or steel, and specifically referring to the “Pewabic” Upper Peninsula copper mine where Ms. Stratton’s father worked and where she spent time taking long walks with him.

Pewabic PotteryUnder Mary Stratton’s artistic leadership, Pewabic Pottery employees created lamps, vessels, and architectural tiles. They were known for their iridescent glazes and architectural tiles.

Mary Stratton passed away, at the age of 94, in 1961. In 1964 Caulkins’ son, Henry deeded the Pewabic building and property to Michigan State University, which operated the site as part of its continuing education program until 1979.

This was not a successful venture and eventually a nonprofit, the Pewabic Society, Incorporated was established to help bring back the company.

In 1981 the Pewabic Society took ownership of Pewabic restoring the building and revitalizing Pewabic’s design and fabrication program. At that time the Society also grew the mission to include education and the creation of a museum, archive and exhibition programs.

The overhead wheels drive a system that lies underground stirring powdered clay with water to create the many types of clays Pewabic uses. This system is original to the building

The overhead wheels drive a system that lies underground stirring powdered clay with water to create the many types of clays Pewabic uses. This system is original to the building

After the clay is removed from the mixing area it is run through this giant bladder to separate as much water as possible from the clay to make it a viable product to mold.

After the clay is removed from the mixing area it is run through this giant bladder to separate as much water as possible from the clay to make it a viable product to mold.

Pieces ready to be fired are placed on racks to head to the kilns

Pieces ready to be fired are placed on racks to head to the kilns

There are several different types of kilns at Pewabic

There are several different types of kilns at Pewabic, this large one lifts up as a box so that you can load pottery from all four sides, the box then comes down over the racks, allowing firing.

Many pieces have glaze applied, prior to firing, by a sprayer, this is not only faster, but ensures a consistent color throughout

Many pieces have glaze applied, prior to firing, by a sprayer in this booth, this is not only faster but ensures a consistent color throughout

Today the company is a vital part of the community. The company’s most notable work, which was done under Mary Stratton, is the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.. The project consisted of arches outlined with iridescent Pewabic tile, huge ceramic medallions set in the ceiling, and fourteen Stations of the Cross for the crypt.

Most of the tiles that Pewabic manufactures are created in molds

Most of the tiles that Pewabic manufactures are created in molds

Just a very small sampling of the molds

Just a very small sampling of the molds

Much of the work at Pewabic is done on potters wheels, the bags on the shelves hold the many different types of clays that are used

Much of the work at Pewabic is done on potters wheels.

Contemporary installations include Comerica Park, home of the Detroit Tigers, Detroit Medical Center Children’s Hospital, and the Herald Square in New York City.

Pewabic also gives classes for budding and professional potters and ceramists.

Pewabic also gives classes for budding and professional potters and ceramists.

The Saarinen House

 Posted by on July 23, 2017
Jul 232017

Academy Way
Bloomfield Hills, Michigan
Saarinen House

A tour of the Saarinen house is an amazing look into the perfectionism of Eliel Saarinen and his design beliefs and senses.  The house combines  Arts and Craft movement ideas with Art Deco elements for a stunning and harmonious work of art.

Saarinen House at Cranbrook


Saarinen House

Decorative elements are integral to the architecture and include patterned brickwork and leaded glass windows with triangles, square and rectangles.

The home was built concurrently with sculptor Carl Milles next door for a cost $140,000 for the two.  The typical cost of a home at that time in Detroit was $6250.

The home was completely restored in 1994, after having been changed by subsequent owners from 1950 to the 1990s.

Saarinen House

The living room is anchored by a rug created and woven by Eliel’s wife and weaving artist Loja Saarinen. The pattern is meant to echo the brickwork of the building.

All of the wooden furniture was crafted at Cranbrook by Swedish cabinet maker Tor Berglund using Eliel’s designs. The woods included greenheart, African walnut, rosewood, and ebony.

Saarinen Living Room

The sofa is based on a Finnish tradition in which rugs were draped onto the floor so they could be folded up over the sitters feet and lap for warmth.  In this case, Saarinen used the rug decoratively rather than functionally.

The andirons were designed by Saarinen are stylized peacocks.

The andirons, designed by Saarinen, are stylized peacocks.

The weaving above the fireplace is, again, by Loja Saarinen.  The tiles on the fireplace were designed by Saarinen but they were made by Mary Perry Chase Stratton of Pewabic Tile Company.


Above the credenza is a painting of Loja Saarinen done by her husband Eliel

Saarinen House

Silver designed by Saarinen

Saarinen Globe TAble

The globe table is the one piece in the house not designed by Berglund, it was, instead, designed by Saarinen’s son-in-law Robert F. Swanson.  The lighting in the house while designed by Saarinen it was all manufactured by Edward F. Caldwell and Company.

Saarinen Book Room

The Book Room is stunningly separated from the living room by a simple change of color on the molding.

Saarinen Dining Room

The table is covered in Saarinen designed silver pieces and pottery for Cranbrook Academy and the various Cranbrook schools

The dining room is one of the more spectacular rooms in the house. It is a square room made octagonal by the four corner niches. The table has an octagonal base but a circular top. The unique thing about the table is the four arch shaped extension leaves that came out from the exterior perimeter that allows the table to remain circular when expanded from an intimate 4 to a large 14.

Gold leaf covered dome lighting saarinen

The light is a gold-leaf-covered dome.

Greta Skogster

The wall hanging on the left was designed and woven by Finnish artist Greta Skogster.  It depicts birds in a tree.  It has open weave panels that mimic the panels of the dining room and allow you to see the birch wood behind the hanging.

saarinenThrough the door is the butler’s pantry with a Monel metal countertops, a Frigidaire and the personal pottery of the Saarinen’s. The kitchen is on the second floor and is not open to the public.

Saarinen upstairs

This small, blue furniture, alcove sits on the landing of the second floor and is where breakfast was brought to Eliel and Loja at 7:30 am by the housekeeper. The second floor contains the master bedroom and bath with four additional rooms and a guest bath. The other rooms have been modified into a small apartment for the use of the museum curator and are not open to the public.

2nd floor saarinen house

The doors on this floor had stencils on them by Saarinen daughter, Pipsan Swanson.  When the home was restored it was impossible to determine what they were so the restorer, Director Gregory Wittkopp,  utilized a pattern that Pipsan designed for the Kingswood School for girls, which is part of Cranbrook.

Saarinen master bedroom

Son, Eero Saarinen was 20 years old when his parents asked him to design the furniture for the bedroom. This would be one of his first commissions and the beginning of a successful architecture and furniture design career.

saarinen Eero

Loja Saarinen’s dressing table, designed by son Eero, the lamp and mirror were designed by his father Eliel.

Saarinen Studio

The Saarinen studio, located on the first floor, is broken into three sections.  The alcove, dubbed the “cozy corner” by Loja, was the main entertaining and work area.

Art pieces by daughter Pipsan

Art pieces by daughter Pipsan

Eero Saarinen

The above photo is the far end of the studio.  The center of the studio consisted of drafting tables and large windows for light.

The exquisiteness of this home and the incredible, masterful attention to detail is found throughout all of the buildings designed by Saarinen on the Cranbrook campus.

Saarinen was the chief architect of Cranbrook.  During his tenure, he designed Cranbrook School for boys (1925-1929), Kingswood School for Girls (1929-1931), Cranbrook Institute of Science (1935-1938), Cranbrook Academy of Art (1925-1942) and Cranbrook Art Museum and Library (1938-1942).  He also served as the Academy’s first president from 1932 – 1946 and headed the Department of Architecture and Urban Design from 1932-1950.

The home is operated by Cranbrook Art Museum and is open for tours from May through October.

The Spirit of Detroit

 Posted by on July 21, 2017
Jul 212017

2 Woodward Avenue
Detroit, Michigan

Spirit of Detroit

This stunning sculpture is the best-known piece of public art in Detroit.  It’s location and presentation was well thought out.

The backdrop was designed by the architectural firm of Harley, Ellington and Day, also responsible for the Veterans Memorial Building in Detroit.

The sculpture itself is by Detroit area sculptor Marshall Fredericks. Commissioned in 1955 for $58,000, the sculpture was dedicated in 1958.

The seated figure represents the spirit of humanity. In his left hand, he holds a gilt bronze sphere, with emanating rays, symbolizing God, in his right hand he holds a group of people embodying all human relationships.

Spirit of DetroitThe plaque in front of the sculpture says  “The artist expresses the concept that God, through the spirit of man is manifested in the family, the noblest human relationship.”

Along the back is the passage “Now the Lord is that Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is Liberty”.

The round reliefs are the seals of the City of Detroit and the County of Wayne.

Marshall Fredericks was born of Scandinavian heritage in Rock Island, Illinois on January 31, 1908. His family moved to Florida for a short time and then settled in Cleveland, Ohio, where he grew up. He graduated from the Cleveland School of Art in 1930 and journeyed abroad on a fellowship to study with Carl Milles (1875–1955) in Sweden.

In 1932, he was invited by Carl Milles to join the staffs of Cranbrook Academy of Art and Cranbrook and Kingswood School in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, teaching there until he enlisted in the armed forces in 1942.

There is now a Marshall Frederick’s Museum in Saginaw, Michigan.

Ringold Alley’s Leather Memoir

 Posted by on July 17, 2017
Jul 172017

Ringold Alley
Between 8th and 9th Streets
Harrison and Folsom

Prior to the AIDS crisis, Ringold alley served as one of the go-to places for gay men to rendezvous after the numerous gay bars along Folsom Street (the “Miracle Mile”) closed for the night. Until the 1990s, Ringold Street continued to play a major role in San Francisco’s leather and gay SOMA scenes. Leather Memoir is a project to honor the history of this area.

The plaque on Ringold Alley at 9th Street

“Leather Memoir” consists of several custom fabricated features.  A black granite marker stone mounted at 9th and Ringold features an etched narrative, which includes a reproduction of Chuck Arnett’s long-gone mural, and an image of Mike Caffee’s Leather David statue.

Ringold Alley

This is the city’s backyard. . . . An early morning walk will take a visitor past dozens of small businesses manufacturing necessities; metal benders, plastic molders, even casket makers can all be seen plying their trades. At five they set down their tools and return to the suburbs. . . . A few hours later, men in black leather . . . will step out on these same streets to fill the nearly 30 gay bars, restaurants, and sex clubs in the immediate vicinity. Separate realities that seldom touch and, on the surface at least, have few qualms about each other. –Mark Thompson (1982) – The first paragraph of the plaque.


Rubble of the Tool Box at 4th and Harrison (1971), Chuck Arnett's notorious mural stood mutely over the ruins for almost two years

The Tool Box, at 4th and Harrison, was the prototypical San Francisco leather bar. Its walls were covered with murals by artist Chuck Arnett, whose work graced many other leather institutions over the years. A photo of the bar with many of the regulars standing in front of the Arnett mural appeared in LIFE magazine’s watershed 1964 photo-essay “Homosexuality in America.”  This photo shows Arnett’s mural overlooking the rubble of the Tool Box. (1971)


The Leather Pride flag, a symbol for the BDSM and fetish subculture

The paving around the granite installations is the Leather Pride flag, a symbol for the BDSM and fetish subculture

The first leather bar on Folsom Street was Febe's, which opened July 25, 1966. In 1967 A Taste of Leather, one of the first in-bar leather stores, was established at Febe's by Nick O'Demus. Mike Caffee worked in and did graphic design for many leather businesses. In 1966, he designed the logo for Febe's and created a statue that came to symbolize the bar. He modified a small plaster reproduction of Michelangelo's David, making him into a classic 1960s gay biker: "I broke off the raised left arm and lowered it so his thumb could go in his pants pocket, giving him cruiser body language. The biker uniform was constructed of layers of wet plaster. . . . The folds and details of the clothing were carved, undercutting deeply so that the jacket would hang away from his body, exposing his well-developed chest. The pants were button Levis, worn over the boots, and he sported a bulging crotch you couldn't miss. . . . Finally I carved a chain and bike run buttons on his [Harley] cap." (Caffee 1997) This leather David became one of the best-known symbols of San Francisco leather. The image of the Febe's David appeared on pins, posters, calendars, and matchbooks. It was known and disseminated around the world. The statue itself was reproduced in several formats. Two-foot-tall plaster casts were made and sold by the hundreds. One of the plaster statues currently resides in a leather bar in Boston, having been transported across the country on the back of a motorcycle. Another leather David graces a leather bar in Melbourne, Australia. One is in a case on the wall of the Paradise Lounge, a rock-and-roll bar that opened on the site once occupied by Febe's.

The first leather bar on Folsom Street was Febe’s, which opened July 25, 1966. Artist Mike Caffee worked in and did graphic design for many leather businesses. In 1966, he designed the logo for Febe’s and created a statue that came to symbolize the bar. He modified a small plaster reproduction of Michelangelo’s David, making him into a classic 1960s gay biker: “I broke off the raised left arm and lowered it so his thumb could go in his pants pocket, giving him cruiser body language. The biker uniform was constructed of layers of wet plaster. . . . The folds and details of the clothing were carved, undercutting deeply so that the jacket would hang away from his body, exposing his well-developed chest. The pants were button Levis, worn over the boots, and he sported a bulging crotch you couldn’t miss. . . . Finally, I carved a chain and bike run buttons on his [Harley] cap.” (Caffee 1997) 

–Gayle Rubin, excerpted from “The Miracle Mile: South of Market and Gay Male Leather, 1962-1997” in Reclaiming San Francisco: History, Politics, Culture (City Lights: 1998)

Granite stones, recycled from San Francisco curbs, were cut, polished and engraved to honor community institutions.

Ringold Alley

*Ringold Alley

This 2016/2017 $2 million project was designed by Miller Company Landscape Architects. A variety of community leaders were consulted on the design, including anthropologist and leather historian Gayle Rubin, Demetri Moshoyannis executive director of Folsom Street Events, and the late Jim Meko, former chair of the Western SoMa Citizens Planning Task Force.

The project,  officially known as the San Francisco South of Market Leather History Alley, was the brain child of Jim Meko, who, prior to his death in 2015, had long pushed for a rezoning of Western SOMA that would honor the area’s leather history. A bootprint honoring Meko can be found near the black granite explanation plaque.

Commemorative plaques

Made from the left and right soles of a pair of Dehner boots owned by Mike McNamee, the founder and former owner of Stompers, the 28 commemorative markers feature the names and short bios of 30 individuals. They can be found on both sides of the alley

If you are interested in learning more about the SOMA leather scene Found SF has written a concise and interesting story of the neighborhood, which you can read here.

Jeffrey Miller (ASLA) is credited as the lead artist on the project.  Miller is the principal and founder of Miller Company. He holds an M.L.A. from the University of Massachusetts School of Landscape Architecture.

Ringold Alley Boot PrintsThe people honored with boot prints are:
1. Jim Kane, community leader, and biker
2. Ron Johnson, poet, and co-founder of the Rainbow Motorcycle Club
3. Steve McEachern, owner of the Catacombs, a gay and lesbian S/M fisting club
4. Cynthia Slater, founder of the Society of Janus
5. Tony Tavarossi, manager of the Why Not
6. Chuck Arnett, iconic leather artist, Toolbox muralist
7. Jack Haines, Fe-Be’s and The Slot owner
8. Alexis Muir, a transwoman who owned SOMA bars and baths
9. Sam Steward, author, and tattooist
10. Terry Thompson, SF Eagle manager
11. Philip M. Turner, founder of Daddy’s Bar
12. Hank Diethelm, The Brig owner
13. Ambush co-owners Kerry Brown, Ken Ferguson, David Delay
14. Alan Selby, founder of the store Mr. S Leather and known as the “Mayor of Folsom Street”
15. Peter Hartman, owner of 544 Natoma art gallery and theater
16. Robert Opel, Fey-Way Studios owner
17. Anthony F. (Tony) DeBlase, creator of the leather flag
18. Marcus Hernandez, Bay Area Reporter leather columnist
19. John Embry, founder, and publisher of Drummer magazine
20. Geoff Mains, author of “Urban Aboriginals”
21. Mark Thompson, author of “Leatherfolk” and co-founder of Black Leather Wings
22. Thom Gunn, poet
23. Paul Mariah, poet, printer and activist
24. Robert Davolt, author, and organizer of SF Pride leather contingent
25. Jim Meko, printer, and SOMA activist
26. Alexis Sorel, co-founder The 15 and Black Leather Wings member
27. Bert Herman, author, and publisher
28. T. Michael “Lurch” Sutton, biker and co-founder of the Bears of SF

Ethereal Bodies

 Posted by on July 15, 2017
Jul 152017

San Francisco General Hospital
1001 Potrero Avenue
Potrero Hill
Parking entry on 22nd Street

Etherial Bodies by Cliff Garten at SFGH

Titled Ethereal Bodies, this piece, done in 2015, is by Cliff Garten. It consists of nine undulating stainless steel sculptures lit by multicolored LED lights. The installation’s stainless steel rods range in height from 14 to 22 feet tall. The surface of each is finely worked to achieve the most interesting interaction with sunlight and the LED lights at night.

Garten received a Master of Fine Arts in Sculpture from the Rhode Island School of Design and a Master of Landscape Architecture with Distinction from the Harvard Graduate School of Design, his studios are in Venice, California.

Cliff Garten at SFGH


Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

Cliff Garten has another piece in Mission Bay of San Francisco that you can view here.

Healing Hearts

 Posted by on July 15, 2017
Jul 152017

San Francisco General Hospital
1001 Potrero Avenue
Potrero Hill

The plaque that accompanies these pieces reads: San Francisco General Hospital is known as the "heart of the city" and the phrase inspired this series o sculptures. Mother with Children in the entry pavilionand the smaller Hearts figures sited along the walkway celebrate the crucial role the hospital plays in preserving and maintaining the community's health and well-being

The plaque that accompanies these pieces reads: San Francisco General Hospital is known as the “heart of the city” and the phrase inspired this series of sculptures. Mother with Children in the entry pavilion and the smaller Hearts figures sited along the walkway celebrate the crucial role the hospital plays in preserving and maintaining the community’s health and well-being

The pieces were all created by sculptor Tom Otterness who was born 1952 in Wichita, Kansas. He is a prolific public art sculptor who has been creating whimsical satirical pieces since the 1970s.

SFGH Heart sculptures

*Tom Otterness

Otterness employs the “lost wax” process to cast his bronze figures, which range from monumental to palm-sized. About his sculptures, the artist says, “I try to make work that speaks a common language that people understand, a visual language that doesn’t intimidate them.”

sculptures at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center

*Hearts at SFGH

The sculptures are part of the San Francisco Art Commission Collection and cost $700,000.  Otterness has other pieces on a building in the Union Square area that you can see here.

Hearts at SF General Hospital

*Sculpture at San Francisco General Hospital

*Hearts at SF General

Moscone Park

 Posted by on July 11, 2017
Jul 112017

Moscone Park
1800 Chestnut Street
Marina District

Moscone Park SF

This Leatherback Sea Turtle and the Pink Short Spined Starfish in the playground of Moscone Park were gifts to the San Francisco Arts Commission from the Friends of Moscone Park

These bronze sculptures were the work of Jonathan Roberson Beery.


Jonathan Beery is a California native and studied at the California State University in Long Beach.

The tiled seating was also a gift of Friends of Moscone Park and was a joint project between the artist and children of the neighborhood.  The bench cost approximately $9500.

Moscone Park and Playground

*Tile Bench at Moscone Park and Playground

Birds in the Mission

 Posted by on July 8, 2017
Jul 082017

In Chan Kaajal Park
17th and Folsom
Mission District

Condor at In Chan Kaajal Park San Francisco

The plaque that accompanies this piece reads: The California condor is North America’s largest bird. Depicted life-size it has a wingspan of 9 1/2 feet. Now an endangered species, the condor is a scavenger that eats large amounts of carrion, thus playing an important part in the cycle of life. It is a significant bird to many California Native American groups and is featured in many of their traditional stories.

There are two California birds represented in this Mission district park.  They are painted water-jet cut steel panels created by Carmen Lomas Garza.

San Francisco-based artist was born in 1948 in Kingsville, Texas. She attended Texas Arts and Industry University (now Texas A&M) and received a BS in art education.  She also holds a Master of Education and a Master of Arts degree.

She is well known for her paintings, ofrendas and for her papel picado work inspired by her Mexican-American heritage. Her work is a part of the permanent collections of the Smithsonian the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the National Museum of Mexican Art, the San Jose Museum of Art, the Mexican Museum the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts,  and the Oakland Museum of California, among other institutions.

The plaque that accompanies this panel reads: The great blue heron depicted here life-size, has a wingspan of approximately 6 1/2 feet.  Mission Creek that runs beneath this site historically provided a habitat and hunting ground for the great blue heron in its search for frogs, fish, gophers and other animals.  Here the bird carries a leafless branch, the building materials for its nest.

The plaque that accompanies this panel reads: The great blue heron depicted here life-size, has a wingspan of approximately 6 1/2 feet. Mission Creek that runs beneath this site historically provided a habitat and hunting ground for the great blue heron in its search for frogs, fish, gophers and other animals. Here the bird carries a leafless branch, the building materials for its nest.

In Chan Kaajal is Mayan for our little neighborhood.  Lopez has a second public art piece at the San Francisco airport.  You can read about that piece here.

Esmeralda Slide Park

 Posted by on April 29, 2017
Apr 292017

Winfeld and Esmeralda
Bernal Heights
April 2017

esmeralda slide parkIn the 1970s a group of volunteers, with some help from the city, conceived and created Esmeralda Slide Park.  That volunteer organization later became the Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center.

New York Times article published in 2010 noted that “At the park’s dedication party in 1979, a shrieking Mayor Dianne Feinstein slid down her chute, racing and defeating the district supervisor, Lee Dolson. Mayor Willie L. Brown Jr. enjoyed the plunge at a rededication in 1998, wearing a three-piece suit and a fedora. Tom Ammiano, the District 13 assemblyman and a nearby resident, has also enjoyed gleeful descents.”

Esmeralda Street Stairs and Park

A $14,000 crowd funding project was formed by Joan Carson and graphic designer Nancy Windesheim for the tile installation called The Locator at the top of Esmeralda Slide Park.    The locator was completed in 2017.

The Locator Tile Installation

Designed by Windesheim the tile installation was done by Rachel Rodi. The design features a compass surrounded by “Esmeralda Slide Park” with arrows pointing in 4 directions: Cortland Avenue, Bernal Hill, Downtown, and Mission Street. The color blue signifies the sky, the greens represent open space and trees, and the textured grey rings suggest the surrounding urban landscape.

The view from the top of the slides

The view from the top of the slides

Originally schooled as a painter and ceramic sculptor, Rachel Rodi has been a practicing artist for over twenty five years. Rodi graduated in 1977 with a Bachelor of Arts from Regis University, Denver. She is presently the Senior Staff Instructor at Institute of Mosaic Art in Berkeley, California.

Nancy Windesheim holds a BA in Graphic Design from UCLA, where she focused on typography.

The Locator Tile installation

Civil Rights Monument

 Posted by on March 31, 2017
Mar 312017

Capitol Park
Richmond, VA
March 2017

Richmond, VA

The Virginia Civil Rights Memorial sits on the grounds of Capitol Square in Richmond VA and commemorates the protests which helped bring about school desegregation in the state.

Unveiled in 2008 this $2.8 memorial was designed by Stanley Bleifield.

Civil Rights Monument, Richmond VA

Oliver Hill and Spottswood Robinson

From the Richmond Times-Dispatch: “A Commonwealth once synonymous with defiance of court-ordered school integration celebrated the latest symbol of its often-difficult embrace of equality with the Virginia Civil Rights Memorial in 2008.

It represents a key moment in the history of the civil-rights movement in Virginia.

Civil Rights Monument Richmond VAThe statue spotlights the African-American students in rural Prince Edward County whose 1951 walkout to protest their run-down school led to a lawsuit that was folded into the challenge that triggered the 1954 Brown vs. the Board of Education decision by the U.S. Supreme Court banning segregated public schools.

Among the figures in the memorial is Oliver W. Hill Sr. holding a rumpled legal brief aloft as he stands shoulder to shoulder with law partner Spottswood W. Robinson III. They took on the case of the Prince Edward County students who protested the shabby condition of their school.

Civil Rights Monument Richmond VABarbara Johns was the one who called the school strike in 1951 and she is a key figure in the sculpture. Her statement “it seemed like reaching for the moon” is boldly featured.

The student protests garnered support from the local community, benefiting from the moral leadership of the Rev. L. Francis Griffin, known as the “Fighting Preacher” and is also featured in the memorial.”

Civil Rights Monument Richmond VA

The Reverend Francis Griffin

The article seemed, in my opinion, to gloss over some of the reasons for the strike, here is a very, very short elaboration of the situation. R.R. Moton High School, an all-black high school in Farmville, Virginia, founded in 1923, suffered from terrible conditions due to underfunding. The school did not have a gymnasium, cafeteria or teachers’ restrooms. Teachers and students did not have desks or blackboards, and due to overcrowding, some students had to take classes in an immobilized, decrepit school bus parked outside the main school building. The school’s requests for additional funds were denied by the all-white school board.

Civil Rights Monument in Richmond VAAmerican Sculptor  Stanley Bleifeld (1924 – 2011) was born in Brooklyn, New York, Bleifeld’s many awards included: Sculptor of the Year in Pietrasanta and the World, in 2004, the Henry Hering Memorial Medal of the National Sculpture Society, (he was president of the Society from 1991 to 1993), the Medal of Liberty from the American Civil Liberties Union, the Shikler Award from National Academy of Design, and many others.

He was a National Academician in Sculpture, and was an active member of the National Academy of Design, helping to set policy for the organization.

Regular readers of this blog will recognize one of his statues in San Francisco, The Lone Sailor

Civil Rights Monument in Richmond VA

Reconciliation Triangle

 Posted by on March 28, 2017
Mar 282017

East Main Street
Richmond, VA
March 2017

Richmond VA

Reconciliation Triangle has a fascinating and worldwide story.

The statue represents Richmond, Virginia’s place in slave history.  With the addition of Liverpool, England, and the republic of Benin, West Africa, identical statues by Liverpool artist Stephen Broadbent are in place in each country marking the three points of the infamous slave trade triangle. The statues symbolize a commitment to new relationships based on honesty, forgiveness and reconciliation.

In 1999, President Mathieu Kerekou of the Republic of Benin convened an international gathering at which he apologized for Benin’s part in selling fellow Africans to slave traders. Also in 1999, Liverpool City Council apologized for that city’s prominent role in the trade.

In 2007 Virginia’s General Assembly voted unanimously to express profound regret for the involuntary servitude of Africans, and called for reconciliation among all Virginians.

This is part two of Reconciliation Triangle, part one, the impetus for this project, also has a fascinating back story which you can read all about here.

Reconciliation TriangleStephen Broadbent is a British sculptor, specialising in public art. He was born in Wroughton, Wiltshire in 1961 and educated at Liverpool Blue Coat School. In Liverpool he studied sculpture for four years under Arthur Dooley.


Woodward Garden

 Posted by on February 4, 2017
Feb 042017

Woodward Gardens
Duboce and Woodward Street
Mission/South of Market
Woodward Gardens

On January 19, 1873, 12,000 people showed up at Woodward’s Garden in the Mission District to watch Frenchman Gus Buislay and a small boy soar aloft in a hot air balloon. The man who made it happen was Robert B. Woodward.

Woodward had made his fortune in the grocery store business. In 1849, he opened a store right off the waterfront to serve the ever-increasing number of people flooding into the Port of San Francisco for the Gold Rush.

With the acumen of a savvy businessman, he realized the ’49er economy was moving from supplies to service, and so in 1852 Woodward opened What Cheer House, a hotel and club for men known for its good food, safe accommodations and no alcohol policy.

Two women stand ready to enter the reptile house at Woodward Gardens in 1880. (Photo credit: San Francisco Public Library)

Two women stand ready to enter the reptile house at Woodward Gardens in 1880. (Photo credit: San Francisco Public Library)

Woodward’s family left Providence, Rhode Island, in 1857 to join him in California. Woodward purchased four acres of land and a house that had belonged to General John C. Fremont. The property was located on the west side of Mission Street between 14th and 15th Streets. He and his family lived in Fremont’s house while he worked to construct a mansion on one of the many hillocks in the area.

A year-long shopping trip to Europe would necessitate the construction of a gallery and conservatory on his property. Here he could show off the copies of famous sculptures he had had made, as well as paintings and other curiosities he had collected. But the true show piece of Woodward’s estate was its fantastic gardens.

Woodward began these gardens during the original construction of the house. Supplied in 1861 with plants, animals and artifacts from Europe, soon the gardens came to be referred to as the Central Park of the West. In 1864, he opened the estate to friends and acquaintances.

As the garden’s fame spread, members of the public began to stand outside for hours on Sundays, hoping to get a peek of the grounds. In 1866, with a little nudging from his daughter the grounds were open to the public. Woodward moved his family to the Napa Valley and dedicated his time to expanding his San Francisco Woodward Gardens for the enjoyment of its visitors.

Woodward Gardens Art Gallery 1836 (Photo credit: San Francisco Public Library)

Woodward Gardens Art Gallery 1836 (Photo credit: San Francisco Public Library)

Recognizing the need for a constantly changing array of attractions, Woodward once again headed to Europe, bringing back crates of items ranging from the fashionable to the odd. Sailors he had befriended over the years also brought him curiosities from around the world.

It was said that Woodward Gardens held the finest zoo on the west coast, with camels, zebras, buffalo, deer and even kangaroos. There was also a bear pit that held both grizzlies and black bears.

In 1873 Woodward opened an aquarium with sixteen tanks that held from 300 to 1000 gallons of fresh or salt water. The lighting of the tanks allowed visitors to see marine creatures in their natural environment. Visitors were entertained by the crabs, lobsters, shark, cod, flounders, rays, and the occasional ink-spitting octopus.

An amphitheater-that held 5000 people-presented shows featuring Delhi Fire-Eaters, Japanese Acrobats, Roman chariot races and Major Burke and his Rifle Review.

Camel Rides at Woodward Gardens 1880

Camel Rides at Woodward Gardens 1880

Woodward’s home became the Museum of Miscellanies-a pair of 10,000-year-old mastodon tusks graced the front door. The house contained a mineral display as well as fossils and zoological specimens. At one point park goers could view the “largest gold nugget ever found”  from the Sierra Butte mine, a privilege they purchased with an additional .25 cents.

There were several restaurants on the grounds, and, just like What Cheer House, they did not serve alcohol.

General Ulysses S. Grant visited the Garden in 1879. That same year Robert B. Woodward passed away. Although his sons took over the running of Woodward Gardens, they lacked their father’s showmanship and could never match his enthusiasm for the place.

When the park closed in 1894, all the artifacts were sold at auction. Developers stepped in, graded the land, divided it into 39 separate lots and sold them-to become homes for the working class of San Francisco.

Plaque on the outside of Woodward Gardens Restaurant, now missing. (Photo credit: San Francisco Public Library)

Plaque on the outside of the now closed Woodward Gardens Restaurant, plaque is now missing. (Photo credit: San Francisco Public Library)

While many people have never heard of Woodward Gardens, or could not conceive of a four-acre park filled with such wonders and curiosities in the Mission District, some signs hint to its existence. Today, Woodward Gardens Restaurant sits at the corner of Mission and 13th. Alas, the restaurant has no wandering ostriches or playful seals.

Looking Northeast from Robert Woodward’s house, 1865. (Photo credit: San Francisco Public Library)

Looking Northeast from Robert Woodward’s house, 1865. (Photo credit: San Francisco Public Library)

The Mission Street Entrance to Woodward Gardens, 1862. (Photo credit: San Francisco Public Library)

The Mission Street Entrance to Woodward Gardens, 1862. (Photo credit: San Francisco Public Library)

Woodward Gardens, 1874. (Photo credit: San Francisco Public Library)

Woodward Gardens, 1874. (Photo credit: San Francisco Public Library)

Gus Buisley’s balloon often bumped the windmill when ascending. (Photo credit: San Francisco Public Library)

Gus Buisley’s balloon often bumped the windmill when ascending. (Photo credit: San Francisco Public Library)

Shadow Kingdom

 Posted by on January 27, 2017
Jan 272017

16th at Missouri
Potrero Hill

Dagget Park Public ARt San FranciscoThe plaque at the site reads: This artwork is inspired by the history of Mission Bay, a 5,000 year-old tidal marsh that was once the habitat of a rich array of flora and fauna.  Growth of the city in the 19th century brought shipyards, warehouses and railroads and this part of the bay was eventually filled with sand and dirt from nearby development, as well as debris from the 1906 earthquake. The five panels that form Shadow Kingdom evoke this layered history. Ship masts intersect with topographical and architectural references. Some of the plants and animals that once lived here, like elk, beaver, salmon, sandpipers and pickle weed are also depicted.  When viewed from a distance the sculpture takes the shape of the California grizzly bear, a species that last roamed San Francisco in the mid-1800s. As the sun arcs across the sky, these once endemic species are projected as shadows onto the terrain they once inhabited.

Adriane Colburn Shadows public artAdriane Colburn was the selected artist for this project.  She holds a BFA in Printmaking, from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, 1997 and a MFANew Genres from Stanford University, 2001.

Public Art in San Francisco, Shadows, Dagget ParkColburn describes her work: In my practice I seek to reimagine maps and photographs of places (and networks) that are obscured by geography, scale or the passing of time. At the core of this is a fascination with the way that our attempts to make sense of the world around us through maps, data and images result in abstractions that are simultaneously informative and utterly ambiguous. I create my installations by transforming images through a system of physical removal, cutting out everything except imperative lines, thus creating constructions that are informed by voids as much as by positive marks. Through this cutting and display, an intricate array of reflective shadows results. All of my projects are based heavily on research and have a strong connection to place. My work tends to have a fragile appearance, however, my recent projects are constructed primarily of steel and aluminum, giving them a high level of permanence while maintaining their delicacy.

Grizzly Bears Daggett Park Adrian Colburn San Francisco Public Art *1-dsc_0111The San Francisco Art Commission budget for this project was $193,000. The piece sits at the entry of a 453-unit development by Equity Residential, on the edge of what is now called Dagget Park.

San Francisco Public Art Bear

Mosaics of Balboa Park

 Posted by on December 13, 2016
Dec 132016

Ocean and San Jose Avenue
Mission Terrace/Outer Mission

Tile Bench in Balboa Park San Francisco Public Art

There are several mosaics throughout the new Balboa Park Playground.  This bench sits on the exterior of the playground and explains about the restoration of the park, it also lists all the donors that helped  to make the project possible.

The mosaic work is by Rachel Rodi. 

Tile stairways in Balboa Park San Francisco Public Art

Students from Denman Middle School and Lick Wilmerding helped to design and build the mosaics on the two stairways, under the supervision of Rachel Rodi.

Mosaics at Balboa School in San Francisco Public Art

Rachel received a BA in Ceramics from Regis University, Denver Colorado and studied at the Institute of Mosaic Art in Oakland.  She now has her own studio in Oakland.

These flower mosaics line the entryway walk.

These flower mosaics line the entryway walk.