Potrero Hill Artists’ Exhibition Returns after Brief Hiatus

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Amateur and professional artists alike will have a chance to showcase their work at the Annual Potrero Hill Artists’ Exhibition hosted by the Potrero branch library. First launched in 1955, this year’s show will feature roughly 50 pieces from artists associated with the neighborhood through work, worship, residency, or education. 

Each piece is no more than 48 by 48 inches. If not wall-mounted it must be shelf-stable; it won’t wobble or fall if bumped by a library patron. The show is non-juried. Pieces are accepted “first come, first serve.” 

“We have a couple of kids in elementary school and some longtime elders contributing pieces,” said Rachel Bradshaw, the library’s manager. “So far we have digital art pieces, watercolors, oil paintings, mixed media, collage work, and pieces of garments designed and sewed.” 

On Saturday, May 20th, the library will hold an opening reception from 6 to 9 p.m., celebrating the 62nd show instead of 68th because of a few missed years due to library renovations and the pandemic. Works will be on display until the end of July.   

“I think the exhibition matters now more than ever because we experienced such a fracturing during the pandemic,” Bradshaw said. “There are harsher lines of division between people of different economic statuses, ethnicities, and abilities. The art show is open to all, and the library is an ADA-accessible building. Anyone of any age or income can come and have their art displayed. Libraries are the great American unifier. They are a public ‘third space’ that doesn’t require buying anything.”

Community spirit sparked the initial art exhibition. The library was under threat of closure in 1955. Librarian Phylis Taylor, along with internationally recognized American Realist painter Charles Griffin Farr, rallied local artists to hold a fundraiser to save it. 

Dubbed “The Art Show” until 1993, early participating artists included Henri Marie-Rose, John Connolly, Susie Coombs, and Jean Halbrok-Ryden. Gordon Woods, a sculptor who also directed the California School of Fine Arts, now known as the Academy of Art, built “standards,” or movable wooden boards to create more wall space to display artwork between the library bookshelves. Now the renovated library can show works without extra shelving.

Artists no longer donate pieces to fundraise for the library. Instead, the exhibition is a community celebration; the artwork is merely borrowed for a few months. 

The family-friendly reception will include wine, non-alcoholic drinks, kid-friendly foods, and stations where children can make art they can take home. Josh DiChiacchio will serenade patrons on the classical guitar. In the background, a digital slideshow will depict old photographs of the exhibition, previous flyers, with most illustrations penned by Nell Jehu, and a video of the 1985 art show.    

“We think this is the longest-running annual art exhibition in San Francisco,” Bradshaw said. “Call me corny, but I think it’s cool to be a part of that history and for the library to be a part of that history for all 68 years.” 

For more information, email potmgr@sfpl.org, call the library, or come by and ask in person.