Grace Morley, the San Francisco Museum of Art and the Early Environmental Agenda of the Bay Region (193X-194X)

Jose Parra-Martinez, John Crosse


This paper addresses the instrumental role played by Dr Grace L. McCann Morley, the founding director of the San Francisco Museum of Art (1935-58), in establishing a pioneering architectural exhibition program which, as part of a coherent public agenda, not only had a tremendous impact on the education and enlightenment of her community, but also reached some of the most influential actors in the United States who, like cultural critic Lewis Mumford, were exposed and seduced by the so-called Second Bay Region School and its emphasis on social, political and environmental concerns. A number of seminal shows on architecture, landscape architecture and planning mounted under Morley, such as Telesis group’s 1940 Space for Living, engaged San Francisco Bay Area citizens in proposals of ‘smart’ urban growth relying on thoughtful land usage, natural preservation and regional integration, decades before the coining of terms like ‘environmentalism’ or ‘sustainability’. Archival research involving the examination of exhibition records and correspondence, as well as other primary sources, such as journal articles and oral histories, are compared with recent historiographical accounts to provide a better understanding of some crucial episodes in the early history of the Bay Region’s environmental movements. The contributions of remarkable women like Grace Morley and her close circles of female collaborators, including Dorothy Erskine, Catherine Bauer and her sister Elizabeth Mock, are to this day highly under-recognized.


Grace McCann Morley; San Francisco Museum of Art; Architectural exhibitions and public education; Regionalism; Environmental thinking


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