SFMOMA Oral History Project
About the Project
Interview Transcripts
Relevant Resources

About the Project

The Regional Oral History Office at the Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley has partnered with the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art to document the history of the museum on the occasion of its 75th anniversary in 2010.  Founded in 1935, SFMOMA was the first museum on the West Coast devoted to exhibiting and collecting work by both modern masters and younger, less-established artists.

Fifty-four interviews with directors past and present, curators, board members, collectors, dealers, artists, and museum staff document the museum’s history, with an emphasis on three pivotal questions:

  • How has the museum reached out to the community as it has grown and as San Francisco and the world have changed since 1935?
  • How did the collection develop over the last 75 years?
  • How has the museum defined its priorities for collecting and presenting new work?

Major developments at SFMOMA have involved a collaboration of individuals who have varied relationships to the museum, the art world, and the community. These interviews provide wide-ranging perspectives on the push and pull that results in the growth of an institution, and in the shaping of its identity and mission in a changing world.

SFMOMA Staff Contributors

Jill Sterrett is Director of Collections and Conservation at SFMOMA where she has worked since 1990. Jill began her career as a conservator and has worked at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the Library of Congress, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the National Library of Australia. She has published and taught on the subject of museums, art conservation and the legacy of contemporary art, including as a Fulbright scholar at the Universidade do Porto in Portugal.

Ruth Berson, Deputy Director Exhibitions and Collections, has worked at SFMOMA since 2000. Berson started her career as a curator, working in the departments of European art and Textiles at the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco and as an independent curator in Europe on projects in Brussels, Paris and Tokyo. She is the author of The New Painting: Documentation, a two-volume scholarly reference funded by grants from the Getty Trust and a Mellon Endowment for Publications for which, in part, she was knighted as a Chevalier dans l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Ministry of Culture.

Abby Bridge is a librarian at the SFMOMA Research Library and the San Francisco Public Library, as well as a freelance researcher and consultant.  Abby received an MLIS with a specialization in Archival Enterprise from the University of Texas at Austin, School of Information and a BA in Art History from Reed College in Portland, Oregon.  She has worked in special collections libraries and archives for over 14 years and has previously held professional positions at the Museum of Modern Art Library in New York and the North Baker Research Library of the California Historical Society in San Francisco. 

Jessica Lemieux was Assistant Archivist from 2006-2008 working to help establish the Archives of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.  In her capacity as assistant archivist, she provided researchers with access to historical documentation in support of the SFMOMA Oral History Project. 

Sarah Roberts, Associate Curator of Collections and Research, conducts research on the permanent collection and the institutional history of SFMOMA.  Prior to joining SFMOMA, she worked as Adjunct Curator at DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park in Lincoln, MA, and at the Metropolitan Museum of Art cataloguing the twentieth century sculpture collection.  She received her bachelor’s degree in Fine Art from the University of Texas at Austin and her master’s degree in Art History from Brown University, where she focused on early twentieth century American and European art. 

Adrienne Rodriguez was Administrative Assistant for the project from 2006-2009. In this capacity, she offered support in interview scheduling, videography and production of transcripts.

Barbara Rominski is Head of the Research Library and Archives at SFMOMA.  She received an MLIS from the San Jose State University, School of Library and Information Science and a BA in the History of Art from University of California Berkeley.  Prior to working at SFMOMA, she worked with the Harry and Mary Margaret Anderson Collection and the Reva and David Logan Collection of Illustrated Books at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Peter Samis is Associate Curator of Interpretation at SFMOMA. In 1993, he served as art historian/content expert for the first CD-ROM on modern art, and then spearheaded development of interactive educational technology programs for SFMOMA's new building. Since that time, programs produced by SFMOMA's IET team have received widespread recognition and numerous awards. Samis holds a BA in Religion from Columbia College in New York, and an MA in the History of Art from the University of California, Berkeley.

ROHO Interviewers

Richard Cándida Smith is professor of history at the University of California, Berkeley, where he teaches the intellectual and cultural history of the United States and directs the Regional Oral History Office. He is the author of Utopia and Dissent: Art, Poetry, and Politics in California, Mallarmé’s Children: Symbolism and the Renewal of Experience, and The Modern Moves West: California Artists and Democratic Culture in the Twentieth Century, and the editor of Art and the Performance of Memory: Sounds and Gestures of Recollection.

Jess Rigelhaupt is an academic associate of the Regional Oral History Office (ROHO) at the University of California, Berkeley, and assistant professor of history and American studies at the University of Mary Washington.

Elizabeth Castle is assistant professor of American Indian studies at the University of South Dakota and is an academic affiliate at the Regional Oral History Office at the University of California, Berkeley.

Lisa Rubens is an historian with the Regional Oral History Office who directs projects on university history and the history of social movements. She has a Masters in City Planning and a Ph.D. in History, both from the University of California, Berkeley.

ROHO Interviewers on related oral histories conducted prior to this project

Suzanne Bassett Riess grew up in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. She received her BA in English from Goucher College in 1957. For several summers she was a feature writer for the Bethlehem Globe-Times of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. She did her graduate work in English literature at the University of London, and in art history at the University of California, Berkeley. From 1960 to 2004, Riess worked as an interviewer at the Regional Oral History Office, working in the fields of art, architecture, photography, social and cultural history, anthropology, writing, journalism, horticulture, physics, and University history. Her other interests have included many years of being a natural science docent at the Oakland Museum, that museum's Council on Architecture, free-lance photography, writing, gardening, and travel.

Harriet Nathan was an interviewer for ROHO from 1966–ca 2000, specializing in the fields of university history and the arts. She Graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1941 with an AB in Journalism. She was assistant women's editor and managing editor of The Daily Californian, then known as the Monarch of the College Dailies. Nathan prepared President Sproul's biennial report to the legislature, 1942-44; wrote advertising copy; edited house journals; served on local and state boards of the League of Women Voters, primarily in the fields of local and regional government and publications. She returned to UC for a Master of Journalism degree in 1965. Nathan wrote for the University's Centennial Record and conducted research, writing, and editing for the Institute of Governmental Studies, UC Berkeley.

Catherine Harroun was an interviewer for ROHO from 1965-1986. She graduated from Stanford University with a BA in English. She was director of advertising for Wells Fargo Bank and head of the Wells Fargo History Room. Harroun was a newspaper and magazine writer and co-author of Winemaking in California, a History.

Ruth Teiser was a ROHO interviewer from 1965-1994, directing projects on winemaking and fine printing. She graduated from Stanford University with a BA and MA in English, and did further graduate work in Western history. She was a newspaper and magazine writer in San Francisco, writing on local history and business and social life of the Bay Area. Teiser was a book reviewer for the San Francisco Chronicle, 1943-1974. She co-authored Winemaking in California, a History.

Edna Tartaul Daniel was a ROHO interviewer from 1959-1964.

ROHO Production Editors

David Dunham is web director, video editor, and interviewer for the Regional Oral History Office. He is a documentary film director/editor, film festival manager, teacher, and 'Entotainment Guru' of the Bay Area.

Linda Norton, senior editor at the Regional Oral History Office in Berkeley, is the author of the chapbook Hesitation Kit (Etherdome Press, 2007) and the online essay The Great Depression and Me (Counterpath Press, 2007). From 1987-2001 she worked at the University of California Press as manager of the New York Office and as an acquisitions editor in Berkeley.

Gerald Stone is a publishing professional with extensive experience as an editor, writer, and photographer in diverse fields: from scholarly books to journalism to advertising. A UC Berkeley employee for over fifteen years, he worked as an editor for the Regional Oral History Office.

Additional Production Contributors

Denise Rohlfs provides transcripts for major art museums and arts organizations around the world. She is also a painter and ceramicist, currently creating "the artifacts of a culture that exists only in my mind," heavily influenced by elements of jazz music and Buddhism. She lives with her husband in Huntington, New York.

K.C. Smith has worked as a Director of Photography and has directed and produced short films, documentaries and corporate videos. His work as a DP/ Camera Operator ranges from feature narrative films to documentaries and television. He is currently developing a feature narrative film, "A Dog's Dilemma." His work can be viewed at kcsmithfilms.com.

Project Funding

The SFMOMA Oral History Project is a collaboration of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Regional Oral History Office, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley. Generous support has been provided by the Koret Foundation. Additional support is provided by Elaine McKeon, Dan Volkmann, The Graue Family Foundation, and Martha and Bruce Atwater.

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