Frann Spencer (1926 - 2008)

One artist in particular comes to mind. Frann Spencer Reynolds, a member of Clyfford Still's Metart gallery on Bush Street in San Francisco. Almost unknown today. One day in 1990, I  met with an artist named Laia Starr. It turned out that Laia Starr was actually Frann Spencer. Frann had experienced so much success and stress during her artistic career that she dropped out of the art scene and changed her name several times to avoid future contact with the art world. She was such a sensitive person that she could not cope with the constant ups and downs of her successes and interfacing with art dealers. She sold me her remaining artwork that included prize-winning paintings and the finished color cartoons for the creation of the screens for Camp Curry by her mother, Jeannette Dyer Spencer. 

 

The Art Bank program funded by the Rockefeller Trust and the yearly catalogs of the San Francisco Art Association is important as they provide a venue for artist's artwork to be seen in the future. I would have never discovered Frann Spencer had it not been for an image in the 68th annual oil, tempera and sculpture exhibition of the 1949 San Francisco Art Association catalog of her painting titled Bird and Dancer, winning the 1949 Artists Council Prize for painting and also exhibited at Metart Gallery in 1950. Our library has a complete run of almost every catalog produced by the art association, San Francisco, and important National museums that we review continually to rediscover these artists.

 

Post War California artist Frann Spencer Reynolds was born on March 18, 1926 in Oakland, California, the daughter of Jeannette Dyer Spencer and Eldridge Ted Spencer.  Her father was a good friend of Ansel Adams.

She studied under Margaret Peterson at the University of California, Berkeley receiving her B.A. in 1947 and M.A. in 1950. From 1946-47 she also studied at the California School of Fine Arts under Clyfford Still (now The San Francisco Art Institute). Spencer won many awards early in her career, working mainly in abstract oil. 

 

She did much work for her father, working with his architectural firm "Spencer and Associates," based then in San Francisco. Much, not all, of her work in Yosemite has unfortunately been destroyed. There were murals at both the Ahwahnee Hotel and Yosemite Lodge. There were screens at the Yosemite Lodge, ten magnificent screens at Camp Curry, and in a Yosemite Sentinel News Paper, of February 12, 1954, the screens at the Ahwahnee Hotel are mentioned. She also designed all the tile floors, which marked a checkerboard pattern, a square per aisle, and a square per chair, designating the placement of upholstered furniture variously grouped around the room at Yosemite lodge.

 

Frann designed the sculpture at the top of the tower at Vacation Village in Mission Bay, San Diego. It was fabricated and could not have been done without Val Agnoli. There is other work, too, at Mission Bay.

 

There is a book originally titled A Pageant; then later, the title became The Bracebridge Dinner. Text by Ansel Adams and Jeannette Dyer Spencer, Drawings and layout by Frann Spencer-Reynolds

 

It seemed that she completely disappeared from the art scene by the late 1950s, but as her daughter states, she continued painting, drawing, and sketching all her life, creating many landscapes of West Marin County in the 1980s, where she lived at the time. These were signed Valerie Reynolds or Valerie Spencer Reynolds. Some of her work is signed Valerie R., and there are paintings of hers she left unsigned.  The artwork she created towards the end of her life reflects her spiritual life's journey and is signed Laia Starr or simply Laia. She died on October 12, 2008, in Marin County, California.

 

Solo Exhibitions
Metart Gallery, 1950
Ansel Adams' Studio, San Francisco 1953
Area Arts Gallery, San Francisco, 1955

 

Selected Group Exhibitions
68th Annual Painting and Sculpture Exhibition of the San Francisco Art Association at the San Francisco Museum of Art,

1949 (Prize)
69th Annual Painting and Sculpture Exhibition of the San Francisco Art Association at the San Francisco Museum of Art, 1950 (Prize)
 

Awards
Artists' Council Prize for Painting, San Francisco Art Association 1949
 

Literature
Susan Landauer, The San Francisco School of Abstract Expressionism
Thomas Albright, Art in the San Francisco Bay Area 1945-1980
 

Sources

David J Carlson, Carlson Gallery, California.
Additional information courtesy of Ariana C. Reynolds, the artist's daughter, whose sources are the writings of her grandmother Jeanette Dyer Spencer, a resume of her mothers, as well as additional research.