In 1910, Julia Morgan — the first woman licensed to practice architecture in California, and one of the most sought-after architects in the United States — hired the young San Francisco engineer Walter Steilberg. Decades later, Steilberg looked back on his first week with Morgan at a job site downtown. “There was a ladder going from the thirteenth floor clear out over California Street to a scaffold,” he recalled. Suddenly, stepping lightly down the rickety ladder came Morgan, who wore trousers under her long wool skirts for just this purpose. When she casually suggested that her employee climb up to view the construction work above, “I was scared to death,” Steilberg remembered. “I think she was one of the most fearless people I have ever known.”
Fearless is a word that comes to mind often when reading Victoria Kastner’s new book, Julia Morgan: An Intimate Biography of the Trailblazing Architect (Chronicle Books). Born in San Francisco, California, Morgan was the first woman to earn a degree in civil engineering from UC Berkeley, and the first woman to study architecture at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris since the school’s founding in 1648. Not only did she withstand harsh hazing from her male peers — who taunted her, poured water over her head, and pushed her off of benches — but she completed the rigorous program in three years instead of the customary six. Morgan navigated the challenges of designing and executing more than 700 building projects on the earthquake-prone American West Coast, and dealt with powerful clients including William Randolph Hearst, one of her long-time patrons. In her late 60s, she began a series of solo journeys around the world by freighter, something that would still be considered fearless, if not absurd, today.
Despite her many accomplishments, Morgan has largely been forgotten. Kastner’s book resurrects the architect’s professional impact on the field of architecture and on the California landscape. The author details the pioneering techniques behind notable structures like Hearst Castle and San Francisco’s Fairmont Hotel, as well as the many schools, churches, theaters, hospitals, and charity clubs that Morgan built. The author also weaves in diary entries, letters, and interviews with the architect’s coworkers and family, giving us a glimpse at Morgan’s elusive, unique personality. Kastner’s book reveals Morgan to be a humble hard worker and devoted friend, who shied away from media attention and accolades throughout her life.
As the first woman in her position, Morgan was badgered by the press, who were often more interested in debating her looks and femininity than in evaluating her work. As a result, the architect often refused to be photographed, give interviews, or accept awards. But another reason for Morgan’s relative obscurity is that she didn’t work in a single mode. Her diverse projects span Spanish, Mediterranean, Gothic, Neoclassical, and many other styles, but they typically use natural materials and emphasize California’s stunning vistas. Rather than imposing a single vision across all of her projects, Morgan adapted her designs to her clients’ needs and tastes. Throughout her career, Morgan listened; that takes courage, too.
Once denounced as “women’s work” with no artistic merit, embroidery is experiencing a revival, with a feminist punch.
Inspired by the journey made by the epic hero Homer’s Odyssey, a show at Villa Carmignac combines myth with contemporary issues.
This new kunsthaus in Potsdam shows modern and contemporary works of art from East Germany in what was once a terrace restaurant.
Courtney Stephens’s documentary on women’s travels from the 1920s to ’50s presents not just personal glimpses into daily life a century ago but also documents of colonialism.
Laura Larson’s City of Incurable Women draws from archival materials to speculate on the lives of women who were famously hospitalized for hysteria throughout history.
The Philadelphia organization offers artists on-site access to recovered materials, studio space, construction equipment, a $1,000 stipend, and more.
The company is asking users to verify their bank details via Plaid, a fintech company that recently settled a privacy class action lawsuit.
Each artist will receive $190,000 in cash and benefits from the Tulsa Artist Fellowship over a three-year period.
Drawn to Life at the Ackland in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, showcases 17th-century Dutch drawings of landscapes, portraits, preparatory studies, and biblical and historical scenes.
The 1,000-year-old Cañada de la Virgen ceremonial site will be protected from encroaching development.
A total of 24 board members stepped down from their posts after the art center’s parent company allegedly attempted to terminate 12 of their colleagues.
A group of artists and writers denounced the center for hosting Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., son of the country’s former dictator.