Noe Valley Voice November 2000

An Autumn Whirlwind of Art

This fall, my man Leo and I received a flurry of invitations to a gala art event: a four-day celebration honoring the Anderson Collections -- the vast private art collection now exhibiting works at both the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) and the Palace of the Legion of Honor.

(Paintings and sculpture from the Anderson Collections, amassed by Bay Area art collectors Harry W. and Mary Margaret Anderson, will be on display at the MOMA through Jan. 15, 2001. This is fortunate, because it may take that long for most of us to fully appreciate the quality and depth of this collection of modern art, featuring works by more than 200 artists -- Calder, Matisse, Miro, Pollock, de Kooning, Diebenkorn, Oliveira, and Warhol, to name just a few.)

The first party invitation we received was for the Oct. 4 preview at the MOMA, which included a black-tie dinner. This presented a small problem because Leo and I had not worn formal attire since our wedding 59 years ago! Back then, he had rented a tuxedo, while I had designed and sewn my long flared gown. For the Anderson affair, we figured Leo could always rent another tuxedo, but women's styles change each year, and I didn't have a clue about what was now in vogue.

After window shopping downtown and along 24th Street, I was a bit discouraged. I had failed to find anything suitable, either for the elegant occasion or my escalated age. And I did feel that it was important for me to dress up for this posh party, because Leo has been closely associated with the Anderson Collection. Over the past 15 years, at the behest of the Andersons, he has photographed 100 of the collection's artists in their studios across the country.

In my shopping ventures, what I had hoped for but didn't find was something simple, yet somehow mysteriously in harmony with the art world. I had to come up with an outfit worthy of the occasion, but what? Then I remembered the elegant pieces of jewelry that Ann, a lovely lady on my Noe Valley Voice paper route, had given me not long ago. One piece was an ornate fish made of dull silver, with a rust-colored marble dangling from its tail. The fish had a loose wire protruding from it, suggesting that it had once been part of a larger whole. I realized that the fish could serve as a pendant, if I were able to find a matching silver chain. It was a fruitless search until I visited a shop called Karizma, on Church near Market Street, and found the perfect one.

The second piece, similar but not matching, was a trifle smaller, and fashioned in the same way, with a dangling marble. The basic form was not distinguishable as fish or fowl, but I thought that it could serve as an accent, somewhere, somehow.

A black long-sleeved velour blouse that I had made for last year's Christmas festivities would set these pieces off nicely, I thought. I could sew a small square black purse, and attach the smaller piece to dangle from the flap. Then I remembered the bag full of fine cloth that my friend Pat left to me a year ago, when she and her husband Jim flew off to make their home in Hawaii. One length was a copper-toned velveteen, very close to the shade of the dangling marbles.

First, I cut and hemmed a nine-inch-wide stole from the velveteen. Then with the remainder of the cloth I was able to devise a long straight skirt. Although it was slim, it would still allow me to walk, because the material had a knit base with a lot of stretch. When the ensemble was finished, I tried it all on and waited for Leo's okay. "It's you!" he said with a smile, as I sighed with relief.

One thing remained to be found -- a pair of earrings in the same matte silver tone. Bright silver looked too flashy in comparison, so my final search began. I found the proper shade of silver jewelry right in my own back yard, at the Rose Quartz jewelry shop on 24th Street.

I was now prepared to accompany the handsome, dignified gentleman wearing the rented Oleg Cassini tuxedo, to probably the most elegant celebration we would ever attend.

Our Wednesday evening started with a reception in the MOMA's Charles Schwab Room. We then viewed the Anderson Collection, described as "one of the greatest collections of 20th-century American art in private hands." Starting at the top floor, we progressed downward, viewing 327 spectacular art works, culled from the Andersons' 800. An awe-inspiring experience!

Throughout our journey, we met old and new artist friends, many of whom Leo had photographed in their homes. It was especially gratifying to meet Vija Celmins, whose painting of the night sky is my personal favorite. She told us that Leo's photo now held special meaning for her, since he had pictured her with her dog, who died a few years ago.

Though Leo was a bigger attraction, I did receive a little attention -- some of it through the fish pendant I was wearing! Several museum directors noticed it and made positive remarks. One scholarly expert, upon studying it, ventured to say that it had probably originated in Southeast Asia. That was helpful, because when Ann gave it to me, she didn't know where it had come from, although we both knew that she had given me something very rare and beautiful.

Before we could see the entire exhibition, an attendant informed us that dinner was about to be served in the ground-floor atrium -- for 300 guests. There, an ocean of while linen tablecloths was set with fine china and silver-stemmed glasses for a delicious dinner of citrus prawns, mushroom pot stickers, and herb-crusted lamb medallions, topped off with chocolate caramel tarts. Huge balls of pink carnations made up the fragrant centerpiece.

The next evening, the Legion of Honor hosted a lavish reception and preview of another dazzling exhibition, the Anderson Graphic Arts Collection. This event also included a buffet dinner.

The couple who have collected these priceless works, who go by their nicknames "Hunk" and "Moo," greeted all the guests as they arrived. Their married daughter, Mary Patricia Anderson Pence, affectionately referred to as "Putter," is also deeply involved in art, having had her own gallery in Southern California. I especially enjoyed seeing Putter's adorable 8-year-old daughter, Devin Pence, standing in the receiving line with her grandparents, smiling and chatting with the guests, obviously loving every minute of it. She dressed appropriately too, wearing a long black dress covered with specks of glittering silver.

On Friday, the third night of our gala weekend, there was another sit-down dinner, this time at Crown Point Press on Hawthorne Lane. The gallery, which is not far from the Modern, had been transformed into a dining room to serve a sumptuous dinner to 100 guests. The standouts on the menu were beef tenderloins with marinated heirloom tomatoes and pinot noir sauce, and three kinds of chocolate mousse with Chambord raspberry sauce and fresh raspberries.

Finally, on Saturday, we were signed up to attend "A Day with Artists and Ideas, Exploring the Anderson Collection," a lecture program featuring 20 noted artists and speakers.

That morning, I wearily hobbled downstairs to revive myself with a shot of black coffee. Leo arose just in time to get us over to the Palace of Fine Arts in the Marina to hear the end of the first speaker's welcome.

That night, we retired very early and I slept for 11 unbroken hours. Leo hit the pillow a little later, but he slept so late the next morning that I had to sneak upstairs to be sure he was still among us.

Sunday morning I sat down at the typewriter, trying to recapture the magic of the four celebrations devoted to the Andersons' taste in art (and in food). I will have to echo Hunk, who in his speech Thursday night borrowed some words from Jackie Gleason: How sweet it was!