Pretty As Their Picture



Shafts of early evening light poured through the picture windows at the Old Mint last week, casting an other-worldly glow on famous San Franciscans.

But the majority of these famous denizens -- from jazz musicians, politicians, juke joint owners and society doyennes to shoe shine proprietors and famed foodies -- were also framed in glass; hanging from the walls of the storied interior of this 1874 building known as The Granite Lady.

The gathering of so many Swells in one place, framed and unframed, celebrated Faces of the City, an exhibition of 140 portraits by artist Elaine Badgley Arnoux.

Co-hosted by the San Francisco Arts Commission and the San Francisco Museum and Historical Society, this exhibition also provided the public with a short window of rare access to the Old Mint. Which like many ladies of her vintage, is in need of a face-lift.

Once the repository for one-third of the nation's gold and one of the few structural survivors of the 1906 earthquake and fire, the Old Mint is long a civic symbol of hope and renewal.

This Greek Revival-style gem -- only one of five San Francisco buildings designated as a National Historic Landmark -- will serve as the future home to the SF Museum and Historical Society which, hopes, to open permanently in 2012 as museum, event space and visitor center.

About $60 million is still needed (of the $95 million total) to complete the structure’s seismic upgrade and facelift into a museum space.

“When the Mint re-opens, we plan for the museum to take a story-centric approach,” said Historical Society Executive Director Erik Christoffersen. “This will be a brand new cultural institution that will tell the stories of Bay Area men and women whose impact was felt, not only here, but around the nation and the world.”

“The art and exhibitions we plan,” Christoffersen continued, “Will punctuate these stories and make them authentic.”

And there was no exhibition more authentic to kick-off this goal than the wonderful works by Arnoux that span some 60 years at her easel.

SF Symphony Conductor Michael Tilson Thomas

Painter, portraitist, teacher, activist and illustrator, Arnoux’s works are featured in the collections of numerous museums, including the San Francisco Fine Arts Museums, the National Women’s Museum in Washington, D.C., the Triton Museum of Art, the de Saisset Museum and the Berkeley Art Museum.

Some of Arnoux’s San Franciscans portraits are featured in the book, The People of San Francisco: Lives of Accomplishment. And she hopes to include them all, someday.

“I would love to publish another book,” said Arnoux. “But I’m so tired of raising the money for that. Someone else can do it!”

Arriving at The Mint with her husband, former Sec. of State George Shultz, Protocol Chief Charlotte Mailliard Shultz (sporting a sassy new tonsorial style by super-stylist Frédéric Fekkai) gleefully glimpsed her portrait within the groupings.

“It’s not bad,” enthused Charlotte. “But I’m think that was painted a long time ago!”

Sausage King Bruce Aidells proudly stood next to his portrait, regaling viewers with the anecdote that he looked sort of Italian: “It’s a good likeness! But I think Elaine left out some of my better Jewish qualities.”

Holding places of honor throughout the Mint’s once-grand Victorian-era salons were three stand-out portraits: an almost life-size oil painting of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, portrayed during her mayoralty of San Francisco. A soulful rendering of beloved broadcast journalist Belva Davis. And SF Symphony Maestro Michael Tilson Thomas at his podium.

“Capturing Michael was a challenge. He came to my studio three or four times to pose but I just couldn’t get him right,” said Arnoux. “Finally, I decided to watch him in action. I attended a symphony performance and was seated in about the third or fourth row. He started conducting and I started drawing!”

When asked if she has a favorite among her brood of portraits, Arnoux demurred.

“My dear,” she asked, with a hint of smile. “How can I possibly answer that?”

Stay tuned: The San Francisco Museum and Historical Society next presents an exhibition, Standing Ovations -- Rockin’ The Mint, featuring the artists and musicians that comprise The San Francisco Sound on June 4.

Check out the photos below.

Williams-Sonoma founder Chuck Williams and Historical Society Director Erik Christoffersen

Late, great and beloved bass player Vernon Alley

Former Sec. of State George Shultz and Protocol Chief Charlotte Shultz

Cab driver Sai Lee

SF Arts Commission Public Art Program Director Jill Manton and Arts Commission Director Luis Cancel

Vesuvio's Cafe founder Henri Lenoir

Broadcast journalist Belva Davis

Mayor Frank Jordan

Activists and partners Del Martin and Phyllis Lyons

Arts doyenne Dodie Rosekrans

Sausage King Bruce Aidells makes a point about his painting

Native San Franciscan and shoe shine stand operator Monroe Green

Sen. Dianne Feinstein

Stanlee Gatti and Chronicle Columnist Leah Garchik between their portraits

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