“Children and Their Animal Friends” by the Bruton sisters. Photo by Richard Rothman.
Much has been said about the pioneering mural work of WPA artists Dorothy Puccinelli and Helen Forbes inside the 1925 Mother’s Building, originally built as a refuge for mothers and their children and now located within the San Francisco Zoo. Now, courtesy of archivist and librarian Wendy Good, we can spotlight some of the building’s lesser-known work: outdoor mosaics by Margaret, Esther, and Helen Bruton.
The Delia Fleishhacker Mother’s Building, 1940. OpenSFHistory.org wnp27.4386
Good, who is authoring a book on the Bruton sisters, shared with us the significance of their work at the Mother’s Building: “Margaret, Esther, and Helen were exceptionally talented Bay Area artists who were active from the 1920s through the 1960s. During their long and celebrated careers, they mastered a variety of different mediums, including oil painting, printmaking, watercolor, mosaic, and terrazzo. The Brutons completed their first large-scale mosaic project at the Mothers Building in 1934. Helen Bruton designed the works and oversaw the project, although her sisters provided assistance. These murals may be the first public mosaics to be executed in San Francisco and are early examples of an artist using the ancient technique of mosaic for modern design. Helen Bruton, a master mosaicist and a pioneer in the medium, is recognized for her important role in what has been called the “modern mosaic revival” of the 1930s.”
“St. Francis,” by the Bruton sisters.
We salute these pioneering women during this #WomensHistoryMonth. San Francisco Heritage has been working with advocates, city agencies, and local organizations to restore and revitalize the Mother’s Building so that it can be accessible to the public for years to come.