The “California Modernist Women: Groundbreaking Creativity” exhibit at SFO (Photo/Courtesy SFO Museum)
The “California Modernist Women: Groundbreaking Creativity” exhibit at SFO (Photo/Courtesy SFO Museum)

Before your flight, catch this SFO exhibit of midcentury art by California women

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Traveling through SFO this Passover season? If so, be sure to allot a little extra time at the airport to peruse the art exhibit in Terminal 1. (Fun fact: SFO is the only airport with an accredited art museum.)

“California Modernist Women: Groundbreaking Creativity” includes pieces by three Jewish artists — Zahara Schatz, Freda Koblick and Marguerite Wildenhain — who lived and worked in the Bay Area. The small exhibit, which is located on the departures level (level 2) across from gate B13, will be on display through April 30.

Schatz (1916-1999) was born in Jerusalem and for a period of time lived in Berkeley, where she had a studio. She worked primarily with metal and the engineering plastic commonly known as Plexiglas. The SFO exhibit includes several of her Plexiglass pieces, including a table lamp, plate, bracelet and pendant.

Schatz, whose first name was sometimes spelled Zohara in English, was the first woman to win the Israel Prize, the country’s highest cultural award, which she received in 1954. She was the daughter of Boris Schatz, the “father of Israeli art” who established the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem in 1906. She studied and later taught at the school. Her best-known work is the six-branched aluminum candelabrum that stands on the campus of Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial, and is lit once a year on Yom HaShoah.

Left: Zahara Schatz. Right: A photo that ran in the Emanu-El (one of J.'s previous names) on April 7, 1939, with an article headlined "Works of Prof. Schatz Draw Art Lovers to Center."
Left: Zahara Schatz (Photo/Courtesy SFO Museum). Right: A photo that ran in the Emanu-El (one of J.’s previous names) on April 7, 1939, with an article headlined “Works of Prof. Schatz Draw Art Lovers to Center.”

“We selected Zahara Schatz for this exhibition because of the unique qualities of her artwork and the innovative materials and methods that she used,” Daniel Calderon, the curator of exhibitions at SFO Museum, wrote to J. “A major consideration was also her current stature among other mid-century-modern artists.”

In April 1939, the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco hosted an exhibit of works by Boris Schatz, his son Bezalel and his daughter Zahara. The centerpiece of the exhibit was a Torah ark fashioned by Bezalel students and professors out of brass, ivory, silver and jewels. “San Franciscans will be flocking to this extraordinary exhibition, marking a rare opportunity to study Jewish art at its best,” a writer noted in the Emanu-El, a forerunner of J.

Freda Koblick (1920-2011) was born in San Francisco into a Russian Jewish family and was a pioneer in cast-acrylic plastic sculpture. Two of her acrylic trays are on display at SFO.

Marguerite Wildenhain was an influential potter who left the Netherlands when the Nazis invaded in 1940 and immigrated to the U.S. She taught at the California College of Arts and Crafts (now the California College of the Arts) in Oakland. A vase and two bowls that she created in the 1950s are included in the exhibit.

Low bowl, Vessel, and Vase, ca. 1950s, by Marguerite Wildenhain (Photo/Courtesy SFO Museum)
Low bowl, Vessel, and Vase, ca. 1950s, by Marguerite Wildenhain (Photo/Courtesy SFO Museum)

Other artists represented in the exhibit include sculptor Ruth Asawa, designer Ray Eames, jeweler Margaret De Patta and potter Edith Heath.

“Many of the Golden State’s most innovative artists and designers were women who faced great adversity due to prevailing gender inequality,” the exhibit program reads. “The most determined women pushed forward, driven by enthusiasm, strength, and creativity.”

SFO Museum was established in 1980 to enrich the experience that travelers have at the airport. There are 14 rotating galleries across the terminals. In addition, the museum has a collection of more than 150,000 objects related to the history of aviation.

“California Modernist Women: Groundbreaking Creativity” is located past security in Harvey Milk Terminal 1, San Francisco International Airport. Free. Open through April 30 to ticketed passengers and through prior arrangement by emailing [email protected].

Andrew Esensten
Andrew Esensten

Andrew Esensten is the culture editor of J. Previously, he was a staff writer for the English-language edition of Haaretz based in Tel Aviv. Follow him on Twitter @esensten.