Recent Acquisitions: 31 Bill Owens Photographs Gifted to Mills

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After this post, I'm retiring Recent Acquisitions. I began writing the column in January of 2012, shortly after I moved to San Francisco, and it enabled me to do what I love most: hang out in archives, museums, historical societies. With the help of some of my favorite curators and archivists, I celebrated the column's one year anniversary at the Commonwealth Club. Thank you to all of the readers and arts workers who supported Recent Acquisitions! I'll continue to write my other column, Read Local, and you can also find me here and here.

The Mills College Art Museum houses an impressive collection inside the Spanish Colonial Revival building designed by Walter Ratcliff Jr., and their most recent acquisition is no exception. Dr. Stephanie Hanor was kind enough to speak with me about the 31 photographs by Bill Owens. The Bay Area photographer -- who has the best illustrated biography I have ever seen on an artist's website -- is best known for capturing suburban domestic scenes around the East Bay.

In the 1970s, most photographers sought out urbane subjects on gritty city streets, or favored pastoral scenes of farmers working the land, but Owens was fixated on those in between, the kind of families who dwelled in tract housing.

See also:
Body Hair Included: Mills College Gets a Painting by Feminist Artist Sylvia Sleigh
John Steinbeck's Cold War Armenian Legacy

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Recent Acquisitions: The Asian Art Museum Now Guarded by (Bronze) Lions

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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 every other Friday.

In 2011, the Asian Museum received two rare Japanese bronze sculptures, but extensive conservation work kept them out of the public eye. On May 13th, they finally made their public debut outside the Larkin Street entrance. The five-foot-tall, six-foot-long lion and lion-dog somehow escaped the mandatory metal collections ordered by the Japanese government before World War II, and have been donated by Marsha Vargas Handley, a longtime museum supporter, in memory of her husband, Raymond G. Handley.

Laura Allen, the AAM's curator of Japanese art, was kind enough to speak with us about the acquisition.

See also: Galton Pinball Machine Just Another Victory for the Game
Commuter's Crying Towel for Marin Residents

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Recent Acquisitions: Galton Pinball Machine Just Another Victory for the Game

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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 every other Friday.

If you haven't been to the Pacific Pinball Museum in Alameda, here's another reason: founder Michael Schiess has built a pinball machine based on the "bean machine."

Inventor Sir Francis Galton used it to demonstrates the central limit theorem. The machine has a vertical board with interleaved rows of pins, and balls are dropped from the top. They bounce left and right, and eventually, they are collected into the bins at the bottom, which demonstrates that the normal distribution is approximate to the binomial distribution.

If that last sentence was hard to fully comprehend on paper, you're not alone. Schiess uses the machine make math easier to understand, not to mention more exciting. for local school children.

You recently built a Galton Board Pinball Machine. You took inspiration from Galton, but designed it yourself. Did you have any help?

It was built by brother Christian Schiess and myself in our shop.

See also: Commuter's Crying Towel for Marin Residents
New Photograms Speak to History of Bayview-Hunter's Point

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Read Local: Stilwell's Dog Training Book Fails to Distinguish Itself

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My tale is not an unfamiliar one: For my entire life, I longed for a dog to call my own. In 2009, after 27 years of dog fever, I finally brought home my very own 4-month-old puppy. Within the first hour, a six-pound ball of fluff stole my heart -- and shat on my floor.

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UC Press Highlights North Africa's Cultural Achievements
The San Francisco Center for the Book

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Recent Acquisitions: Commuter's Crying Towel for Marin Residents

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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 every other Friday.

"I love Marin, but there's no public transportation," said almost everyone in San Francisco at some point. Cry me a river, right? Or, more specifically, accept this "Commuter's Crying Towel." This figurative towel was issued to passengers on the last very last run of the electric train service in Marin. On February 28, 1941, the automobile, expansion of Highway 101, and the Golden Gate Bridge rendered the inter-urban trains in Marin obsolete.

"Issued as an ephemeral souvenir, it now represents the end of an era where journey by train for work or pleasure was commonplace," explained Carol Acquaviva, a librarian in the Anne T. Kent California Room of the Marin County Free Library. "Gone are not only the trains, but the lifestyle of train travel that was once commonplace in Marin."

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Recent Acquisitions: New Photograms Speak to the History of Bayview-Hunter's Point

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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 every other Friday.

Ron Moultrie Saunders moved to Bayview-Hunter's Point 28 years ago, but he had never been to the local library until the community began holding meetings about upcoming renovations. Just a few years later, he not only frequents the Bayview Branch Library, but his art hangs in two locations.

In 2009, the San Francisco Arts Commission asked artists to contribute submissions for consideration. Of the three who made it to the final round, Saunders was the only resident of San Francisco. When the SFAC formally commissioned his work for the library, he promised to deliver a series of photograms that spoke to the physical location of Bayview-Hunter's point.

See also: Gay Icon, Performer, and "Empress" José Sarria
Exploratorium Film Seeks to Capture the Rhythm and Drama of the Embarcadero

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Recent Acquisitions: Gay Icon, Performer, and "Empress" José Sarria

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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 every other Friday.

San Francisco native José Sarria is a celebrated performer, advocate, and was the first known openly gay person to campaign for elected office in 1961. When the 90-year-old Sarria began to seriously consider the fate of his personal archives, it was no easy task. The Smithsonian expressed interest, but only wanted his correspondence, and Sarria knew that the public and researchers would best benefit from a complete collection at one institution.

See Also: John Steinbeck's Cold War Armenian Legacy
Exploratorium Film Seeks to Capture the Rhythm and Drama of the Embarcadero

More »

Recent Acquisitions: Exploratorium Film Seeks to Capture the Rhythm and Drama of the Embarcadero

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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 every other Friday.

When Liz Keim started the Cinema Arts program at the Exploratorium in 1982, she was one of the earliest adopters of interactive public programming in the Bay Area. Keim knew that films by scientists and artists exploring observation, poetry, and surrealism would enrich visitors' experiences. Today, she heads up a small team which ensures the Film Collection, a composite of 16mm film and digital work, is not only shown in the museum, but in major metropolitan cities across the globe, including Singapore.

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Recent Acquisitions: Antique Vibrators Cure Tuberculosis and Make Your Boobs Bigger

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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 every other Friday.

Good Vibrations is a chain store best-known for being a purveyor of sex toys, but few realize that the Polk Street location is home to their Antique Vibrator Museum. Curator Carol Queen is always adding to the collection, including the most recent addition: A 1914 booklet from the Arnold Massage Vibrator Company. I e-mailed with Queen about about the 64-page booklet.

See Also: John Steinbeck's Cold War Armenian Legacy
Batman Illustrator Donates Rare Comics to the Cartoon Art Museum


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Recent Acquisitions: John Steinbeck's Cold War Armenian Legacy

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John Steinbeck

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 every Friday.

The Saryan Museum in Yerevan, Armenia, is a rather unusual place to find a portrait of the American writer John Steinbeck. The Pulitzer Prize winner's reluctance to sit for such paintings was well-known, and yet there it is, an unmistakable likeness found in the South Caucasus region of Eurasia, painted by Martiros Saryan, the nation's most famous and revered artist.

See also:

Batman Illustrator Donates Rare Comic Books to the Cartoon Art Museum

New Exhibition Forever Alters Chinese Culture Foundation

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