Noe Valley Voice October 2006

Florence's Family Album

An Artful Summer

Reminiscences by Florence Holub

In this column, reprinted from September 1992, Florence Holub takes a look at her plums, Bill Clinton, and a 10-year photography project her husband, Leo Holub, completed at the request of art patrons Harry W. and Mary Margaret Anderson. Luckily for present-day readers, a selection of Leo's photographs from the Anderson Collection will be on display at Stanford University this month (through Oct. 29), in an exhibition titled, "Studio Access: The Photographs of Leo Holub." Leo and Florence are pleased to invite the neighborhood to the show and reception, which will take place on Thursday, Oct. 12, 5 to 7 p.m., at the Stanford Art Gallery. For more information, go to

Autumn is already upon us, and I can't help but wonder where the summer has gone. Well, let's see. First, my man Leo traveled to New York for five weeks, and then our son, who lives in Alaska, paid us a visit for about the same length of time.

I remained close to home, partly to fulfill my museum docent commitments but also to tend to our plum tree in the back yard, which produced the usual bumper crop. I stayed busy climbing, plucking, processing, and foisting off plums on anyone showing the slightest interest.

Of course, the Democratic Convention kept me glued to the TV set, and when we heard that Bill Clinton would speak at 24th and Mission, Helen Lundy, my neighbor, and I put on our walking shoes and rushed down the hill to join the cheering, packed-like-sardines mob.

Then back to the plums.

Leo's summer was also fruitful. By the time this column is in print, he will have returned from yet another journey, this one to the Southwest.

For the past six years, Leo has been working on a major commission: photographing all of the living artists in the Anderson Collection, one of the largest and finest collections of 20th-century modern art in the United States. The collection was featured on the front page of the Style section of the July 26, 1992, San Francisco Examiner, after the Andersons donated seven paintings (valued at $4 to $6 million) to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Peninsula dwellers Harry W. Anderson, known as "Hunk," his wife Mary Margaret Anderson, known as "Moo," and their daughter, "Putter," are true collectors! Together they have amassed 1,100 pieces, and they continue to search out and upgrade their fabulous collection of contemporary painting, sculpture, and prints, dating from the end of World War II.

Leo's assignment came about as a result of his longstanding acquaintance with the Anderson family. They first became familiar with his work 30 years ago, after Leo began taking photographs of the gifted artists he met at Stanford University. (From 1969 to 1980, Leo was head of the photography studio within Stanford's Art Department. In fact, he founded the program.)

Over the years, he has been taking "environmental portraits" of these artists at work, and has documented for posterity such names as Frank Lobdell, Nathan Oliveira, Richard Diebenkorn, and Wayne Thiebaud (who for a period painted in Noe Valley, and whose cityscapes feature some of our steep streets). Noe Valley painter Paul Wonner and Glen Park artist Bruce Conner are also on the list, which now numbers 100 artists.

So far, the Anderson Collection project has taken Leo on three trips to New York, and each has proven to be an exciting, challenging experience. On the first trip in 1986, he recorded 24 giants of modern art, including Helen Frankenthaler, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Motherwell, Frank Stella, and the artist couple Coosje van Bruggen and Claes Oldenburg.

Just making contact with the artists has been difficult, though, because many of these successful, hard-working individuals are reluctant to let you interrupt their creative process. But sometimes a phone call from the patron will open the door. Or sometimes a chance meeting at a gallery opening presents an opportunity to make a personal plea.

At one exhibition we attended here in San Francisco, Leo and I were introduced to Roy De Forest, a much sought-after artist on the list. When Leo broached the subject of taking his picture, De Forest hesitated, saying that the last photographer he'd permitted to visit him had stayed for three days! But Leo assured the otherwise affable artist that the photo session would be a snap, so to speak. A few days later, Leo was in and out of De Forest's studio in an hour.

On his second trip to New York in 1989, Leo photographed 15 artists (including the famous Robert Rauschenberg) and even found the time to climb the Statue of Liberty--all within five weeks!

Finding living space, even temporarily, is almost impossible in New York, but Leo has a number of former students who have helped out with accommodations. On the first trip, ex-student photographer Lorie Novak came up with a convenient studio belonging to a friend going on vacation. On the second trip, another student, Michele La Gamba, found a friend who agreed to share his condo with Leo.

This young roommate proved to be a charming man, the manager of an exclusive menswear department at Bloomingdale's. His elegant condominium was located in the newly developed Battery Park City, close to the harbor where the ferries go back and forth to the Statue of Liberty.

During the last week of Leo's visit, a beautiful fashion model--a friend who also needed a place to stay--moved into the living room. A few days later, more friends of the family arrived: two glamorous Miss Universe contestants, who proceeded to join the model in the living room. Soon the condo was filled with activity, laughter, and jars of makeup. This proved to be the highlight of Leo's trip...and maybe his life!

Leo made his third excursion to New York last May, visiting 14 studios, including those of Jasper Johns, Donald Judd, and Martin Puryear.

And now he is on the verge of completing the project, which will be comprised of four volumes, each containing 50 prints (two of each artist) within a hand-bound portfolio. In mid-August, he loaded his Datsun with camera equipment and headed for New Mexico, where he planned to capture the last remaining artists on his list: Agnes Martin, Bruce Nauman, and Susan Rothenberg.

Although Leo always invites me to accompany him on these treks, I am loathe to leave our comfortable Noe Valley haven. I will admit, however, that this last trip was a temptation. I've always wanted to see the cliff dwellings of the earliest inhabitants of the Americas, which are located primarily in Arizona and New Mexico.

But fate intervened in the form of a summons to appear for jury duty in San Francisco Superior Court. The letter specifically stated no excuse, short of a dire emergency, would be accepted. Oh well, never mind. The courtroom experience may prove to be the inspiration for a future column...or a work of art.