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Friday, August 10, 2012

Recent Acquisitions: The Glory of the Pacific

Posted By on Fri, Aug 10, 2012 at 9:30 AM

The 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition on Treasure Island
  • The 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition on Treasure Island

Cultural institutions in San Francisco continually search for new acquisitions. Alexis Coe brings you the most important, often wondrous, sometimes bizarre, and occasionally downright vexing finds each week.

In 1939, the Golden Gate International Exposition was held on San Francisco's Treasure Island. The theme was Pageant of the Pacific, and the Mexican painter Miguel Covarrubias created six murals to illustrate the glory of the Pacific.

It was the World's Fair, but it was especially significant to two Bay Area locals. Peter Overmire was a young boy when his family gave him a "One Hundred Visit" Fair pass, which he utilized, frequently riding the Ferry from Berkeley to visit the Exposition. At the same time, the young colorist Rosebud Lane proudly displayed her work.

Treasure Island was not a grand showcase of art and architecture for long. Japan invaded Pearl Harbor, and the temporary structures which once housed the Exposition were demolished in favor of a war-time naval base. The murals were shipped off to the Museum of Natural History in New York, but when they returned to San Francisco's Ferry Building in the 1950s, one was missing.

The lithographs are on display at the Mechanics' Institute.
  • The lithographs are on display at the Mechanics' Institute.

Rosebud Lane had purchased a complete set of prints, and gave them to her daughter, Rozell, and her husband, Peter Overmire. The Overmires are members of the Mechanics' Institute, where the lithographs now line the walls of the seventh floor. The Mechanics Institute Library and Chess Room is an historic membership library located in the Financial District. Founded in 1854 to serve the educational needs of unemployed gold miners, the institute is today frequented by readers, writers, and chess enthusiasts.

Covarrubias, a confidante of Diego Rivera and Frido Kahlo, was also a cartoonist for the New Yorker. He secured a commission for the Golden Gate International Exposition and created six large murals, some measuring 15 feet high and 24 feet across. The murals celebrated the art, natural history, architecture, and culture of the Pacific.

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The prints represent an important time in history, both on a local and national level. The first Michelangelo ever exhibited in America made its debut at the Exposition, a direct challenge to New York. The country was preparing to enter World War II, demoralized by the Great Depression.

The public is welcome to view the lithographs on the seventh floor, but the Mechanics Institute only admits members into their library and events. Tours are offered to the public every Wednesday at noon. Individual membership is $95 a year.

For events in San Francisco this week and beyond, check out our calendar section. Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF and like us on Facebook. Follow Alexis Coe on twitter @alexis_coe.
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Alexis Coe

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