Monday, February 13, 2006

Three "Centennials" By The San Francisco Bay

Visitors to the San Francisco Bay Area have had several weeks now to contemplate images of the great 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire, which destroyed much of that city which had boomed in growth and wealth following the discovery of gold in the California mountains in 1848 (and the immense trauma of the American Civil War, as pointed out by at least two historians at this past weekend's historical and cultural symposium celebrating the University of California's Bancroft Library Centennial, and which was held at the University of California's Art Museum -- soon to have its own new, deconstructivist-style building to replace its 1989 earthquake-weakened brutalist style structure from 1970).

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (not my favorite San Franciso museum due to the quality of many of its modern/contemporary art exhibits -- including the recently and intentionally smashed Marcel Duchamp urinal ["Mutt"], exhibited in the center of a room featuring satisfactory Matisses, Mondrians, Marcs, and Beckmans), has been displaying both professional and amateur photos of the 1906 catastrophe, in a show funded by the Firemans Funds Insurance companies. The fascinating and sad exhibit is next to the long running, and insightful, SFMOMA photographic show entitled "Picturing Modernity".

Over at my favorite San Francisco museum (tied with the new de Young Museum, in Golden Gate Park), the Lincoln Park "Legion of Honor", situated above the surf and sea lions of Land's End, is featuring a show which juxtaposes pictures of post-crisis San Francisco 1906 with pictures -- by Mark Klett -- of the same sites re-photographed in 2005. (The new pictures show that little of the new architecture, as captured, is highly distinguished.)

Beyond scenes of the 1906 Earthquake and Fire, the University of California Bancroft Library is celebrating 100 years with a fine new exhibit including superb images of California, Mexico, and the "New World" printed or painted over the past 500 years (and including a Belgium atlas [Item #2] from 1587 showing "Europe" abutting "Tartaria", with Moscow and Russia squeezed out of existence).

Popular items on display are sure to be an early photo of Mark Twain and the gold nugget that sparked the California Gold Rush -- as well as an Aztec Codex painted across two huge stretches of fiber from the 16th century C.E [Item #1] and a huge, 20 or 25 foot long panoramic view photograph of San Francisco, taken in 1877 by the great Eadweard Muybridge. [Only one of the gilded age mansions pictured in the photo survived the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire, according to former California State Librarian and University of Southern California University Professor, Kevin Starr, who I overheard describing the photographic spread.]

There are also four exhibits from Berkeley's superb Tebtunis Papyri / APIS Project, which is said to rival the Egyptian and Hellenistic Papyri collections of Berlin and Vienna. (The young Berkeley-educated Papyri scholar who lectured last Friday kept referring to BC and AD, rather than BCE and CE. Is this common in American scholarship in the early 21st century?)

Here is the site for Berkeley's Center for the Tebtunis Papyri:

Here is the University of California Bancroft Library Main pictorial site:

Here is the University of California Bancroft Library multi-media exhibit on the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire:


CAL Performances, which presents [and produces] the performing arts at the University of California [the University's Greek Theater opened in 1906], is also celebrating its Centennial, with a Gala, this April [chaired by Ann Getty], which will feature dancer Mark Morris, composer John Adams with the Ensemble Alarms Will Sound [and director Peter Sellars and librettist June Jordan], assorted choruses singing operatic excerpts by Wagner and Boito [sic], and conductor/composer Michael Tilson Thomas, at the piano and with a soprano, performing his own and Broadway songs. [Mr Tilson Thomas is also reported to be composing electronic/synthesized music for the distinguished San Francisco postmodern choreographer Joe Goode, who was recently in residence at the University of Maryland.]

My personally most fond memories of CAL Performances are when it sponsored the San Francisco Symphony (repeatedly), a production of Ezra Pound's Le Testament de Villon [under Robert Hughes], and a production of Choral Odes From The Ancient Greek Tragedies, under a distinguished Greek choreographer and scholar -- all of these in Zellerbach Hall and when I attended Berkeley High School in the early 1970s. [The Hall was itself dedicated in the presence of Igor Stravinsky, in 1967 (date?)].

Costanoan or Ohlone native Californians in the San Francisco Bay, based upon original image ca. 1806. (See the Bancroft Library Centennial Exhibition for better, German explorer, 1806 drawn image.)

"When the Spanish first established colonies in California in the late 1700's, Alta California was the home of more than 300,000 Indians — a greater number than in any comparable area north of Mexico. The historic period Native Californians were by no means "primitive," however. With some evidence that they practiced limited horticulture or agriculture, they relied mainly on hunting and gathering as the basis of their subsistence, developing complex social systems. So diverse were the Indian lifestyles that early 20th century ethnographers described no less than four major culture areas. The linguistic picture was even more elaborate, with approximately 90 languages, including several hundred dialects."

[Adapted from Moratto (1984: 2-6)]

Image and text credit:

An 'Unvanished' Story: 5,500 Years of History in the Vicinity of
Seventh & Mission Streets, San Francisco -- The Costanoans, the Ohlone, and the Prehistory of San Francisco Bay

[The stately Old San Francisco Mint will soon be the home of the new San Francisco History Museum. And not once, to my knowledge, did anyone at this past weekend's "Bancroft Library at 100" Celebration - Symposium mention the John Steinbeck literary papers, (partially) housed at the University of California's Bancroft Library.]


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