It was back to San Francisco in mid-August, this time with Janet and friends to enjoy contemporary art, good eats and a visit to wine country. By the way, the title of this post refers to the song, “We Built This City” (on rock on roll) by Jefferson Starship (known as Jefferson Airplane back in my day). Anyway, Grace Slick, lead singer and heartthrob for the group, is reported to having stated that she hates this song. It was played way too many times on the radio back then. She now spends her time painting and has produced some really nice work (http://www.areaarts.com/grace-slick/).
In reference to art, our gang had the chance to visit with Fletcher Benton at his studio on Gore Avenue. Fletcher is an American treasure, a man of great talent who has been most creative and quite prolific in his lengthy career. I am adding two links to videos, one that shows his sculptures and one in which he discusses his philosophy about work. (His philosophy https://youtu.be/hf_D91pH5pc; and his art https://youtu.be/UkPQE-UaUzE) Even at age 86, he goes to the studio to work four days every week. As he notes, we never know when the gremlin (a great idea or inspiration) will appear, and if we do not show up we will have missed an opportunity. This philosophy is so true in all aspects of life. Spending time with Fletcher and his assistant Michael was the highlight of our trip (for me).
We have several pieces of Fletcher’s work both in and outside of our building, Mammel Hall. The outside work, four large steel pieces, is part of Fletcher’s Alphabet Series. Many of these pieces were created in the 1990s, although he continued to produce large as well as smaller versions of the letters after 2000. I am including pictures of two pieces that are displayed on the east side of our building. Guess what these letters are. Thousands of people drive or walk by these works of art every day. It is a joy to know that those lives have been made better as they pass by and view this great work.
Fletcher became well-known as a sculptor as sculpture art, in part, turned toward Kinetic pieces in the 1960s. He had been primarily a painter before that time (he still paints) but had not enjoyed as much success as he hoped for. However, once his kinetic work appeared in just a few shows, he became well-known and very much in demand. Many of these pieces can be found in museums and galleries throughout the world. However, by the 1970s, his interest in kinetic art waned, and he turned his attention to the alphabet, numbers, and large steel sculptures whose geometric shapes, balance, and colors make us think and smile.
Of course, any trip to San Francisco involves deciding what to do when there is not enough time to do all that you want to do. Finding a good hotel location is important, especially in a city where parking is very expensive. We stayed in the Hotel Zephyr on Beach Street, just a short walk from Fisherman’s Warf, and a 15 minute street car ride to Globe Life Stadium (we caught an afternoon game between the pathetic Giants and the disappointing Cubs, great fun!). We could see Coit Tower a short distance away from our hotel window as well as the bay on the opposite side. Coit Tower (unpainted reinforced concrete) was built in 1933, and is another excellent example of the classic art deco buildings constructed in the 1920s and 1930s all over the U.S. (think about the Empire State and Chrysler buildings also constructed about that time). Coit Tower stands out because it is 210’ tall. It dominated the North Beach skyline until the major San Francisco skyscrapers were added later in the 20th century.
Yes, we went to Napa and yes we visited too many wineries. We chose to visit four, and were free to consume as much wine as we wanted because we had a driver who picked us up in Vallejo after a relaxing ferry ride and drove us wherever we wanted to go. We walked everywhere else that day, thus no driving by any of was needed (no designated driver). A suggestion to readers: visit only two wineries in one day.
One afternoon, after a walk though Chinatown, we ate at the House of Nanking. This restaurant has a small footprint and excellent food. Their salt and pepper shrimp mixed with mushrooms was quite a treat. We were waited on by Peter Fang, a well-known chef and businessman. He and his daughter, Kathy, are probably known by some of you. http://houseofnanking.net/
The walk back to the Hotel Zephyr from the House of Nanking is only 1.1 miles (walk everywhere if you are able), and takes you by two classic churches, St. Francis of Assisi and St. Peter and Paul. Another walk took us by the Hungry I Club, made famous in part by comedian and provocateur Lenny Bruce.
Lastly, my book for that week was Carlo Rovelli’s Reality is Not What It Seems, The Journey to Quantum Gravity. Rovelli is a good writer and is adept at bringing a clearer understanding of relativity, quantum mechanics and several other scientific theories to people like me who are not educated in the physical sciences. He takes us on the great ride of scientific discovery from Democritus to Plato to Zeno to….Newton to Einstein to…finishing with the next important scientific questions that beg for answers. Get a copy.