Beth Van Hosen: Fauna & Flora
Excerpt from essay by Bob Hicks
At first glance, Beth Van Hoesen’s affinity for the animal kingdom might seem surprising. For most of her life she was a devoted urbanite, about as far from the realm of wild animals as a lifelong westerner can be. She went to college at Stanford University, at a time when Palo Alto was still a small college town, but in the mid-1940s moved to San Francisco, which except for a few breaks for travel and study was to be her home for the rest of her life. In 1959 she and Adams bought the old Engine No. 44 firehouse near Castro Street. The neighborhood now hosts the highest concentration of gay male couples in the United States but at the time was a much grittier blue-collar part of the city. Less than a decade later, nearby Haight-Ashbury would become the mecca of America’s hippie movement. The two artists lived and worked in the firehouse for almost half a century, surrounded by social ferment and well aware of it, but also occupying a kind of protective, timeless bubble that they constructed around themselves.5 They lived a settled, almost cloistered urban life, broken by jaunts into the countryside, vacations, and occasional foreign sojourns. Van Hoesen spent periods studying in Mexico City and Paris before she and Adams met; later they traveled together to work and study in France.
Yet Van Hoesen’s roots were in a much more rural West, in a time and place where the relationship between people and nature was both close and casual. She was born, in 1926, in Boise, Idaho, a small city surrounded by rich, dry farmland and, not too far away, rugged wilderness. She and her family lived for a time in Walla Walla, Washington, now the center of a thriving upscale wine region but in the 1930s a little, isolated farm town with a state penitentiary. And they spent time in the then-modest-sized coastal city of Long Beach in Southern California, where she could find sea mammals only a short walk away.