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The Pacific Unity Sculptures

Treasure Island was constructed to be the site of the Golden Gate International Exposition, which took place in 1939 and 1940. The theme of the fair, Pacific Unity, found its most eloquent expression in the Court of Pacifica, of which Timothy Pflueger was the design chief.

Presiding over the court was sculptor Ralph Stackpole's eighty-foot "Pacifica," the fair's mythical goddess of the western ocean. Arranged around the circular, three-tiered Fountain of Western Waters at the center of the court were twenty oversized Pacific Unity sculptures representing the peoples of the Pacific.

Twelve smaller sculptures, twice lifesize, were arranged on the tiers of the Fountain of Western Waters. On the plaza surrounding the fountain were eight larger sculptures. They represented major geographical areas of the Pacific: the Americas, the South Pacific, and Asia. The larger figures were posed as for formal portraits – poised and dignified. The smaller, more dynamic sculptures were captured in spontaneous action: dancing and making music, working, sleeping.

 
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The Pacific Unity sculptures were characteristic of the 1930’s in their themes, which pay tribute to the common man; their proportions, which are heroic; and their stripped-down, streamlined look. They lack the conventional embellishments that often characterized American monumental sculpture, especially sculpture for world's fairs: classical proportions, flattering postures, flowing robes, wings, and other props derived from classical mythology.

The sculptures are weighty, compressed, and full of energy. The artists created an aspect of refined primitivism. If you don't look too closely, you might think that the sculptures had just been unearthed from some archaeological dig. They were admired by public and art critics alike: Alfred Frankenstein, venerable art critic of the San Francisco Chronicle, considered them to be the finest sculpture made for the fair.

Sculpture for world's fairs is usually made of plaster, which will disintegrate within a few years. But the Pacific Unity sculptures, made of cast stone, were meant to last.

 
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Ten of the sculptures survive in storage, and four have disappeared. During the 1980s and 1990s, the Treasure Island Museum Association raised funds to have the sculptures repaired, restored, and placed on public display. Plans to restore and display all of the sculptures were interrupted by the closure of Naval Station Treasure Island in 1997.

Six of the sculptures have been restored and are now on display, flanking the main entrance doors to Building One. The six sculptures are the work of three different artists, and are displayed in pairs on opposite sides of the doors. They are, from left to right:

 
 
  • "Flutist," from “Chinese Musicians” group (Helen Phillips)
  • "Islands of the Pacific" (Adaline Kent)
  • "Tree of Life," representing India (Jacques Schnier)
  • "Tree of Life," representing India (Jacques Schnier)
  • "Islands of the Pacific" (Adaline Kent)
  • "Blowing a Horn," from “Chinese Musicians” group (Helen Phillps)

 
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  The sculptures in storage include the following:

 
 
  • "Modern American Woman," "Indian Woman," representing North America (Carl George)
  • “Inca Indians,” two men astride kneeling llamas (Sargent Johnson)
  • “Polynesian Group," a seated man and woman (Brents Carlton)
  • North and Central American group, including "Alaskan Boy Spearing Fish," "American Woman"
    about to dive into a pool, "Mexican Boy" napping on a basket (Ruth Cravath)
  • South American group, including “Primitive Woman Making Farina,” “South American
    Fisherman,” “Young Native Riding an Alligator” (Cecilia Graham)

 
  Ten of the sculptures survive in storage, and four have disappeared. The missing sculptures include one each by Cravath, Graham, Kent, and Phillips.  
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