In Memory of Ruth Bancroft 9/2/1908 – 11/26/2017

Photo of Ruth Bancroft in The Ruth Bancroft Garden
Ruth Bancroft, photo courtesy of The Ruth Bancroft Garden, photographer unknown

UC Berkeley alumna Ruth Petersson Bancroft, founder of The Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek and well-known expert in dry gardening, passed away at the age of 109 on Nov. 26. Her oral history, The Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek, California: Creation in 1971 and Conservation, conducted in 1991 and 1992, is described by interviewer Suzanne B. Riess as “…the amazing chronicle of the growth of a passionate gardener, from her childhood recollections of spring wildflowers on the hills of an earlier, bucolic Berkeley, to her current triumphs, and the tribulations of stewardship of a garden more or less in the public trust.”

The daughter of first-generation Swedish immigrants, Ruth Petersson was born in Massachusetts, but moved to Berkeley, California when her father landed a professorship at UC Berkeley. Of her childhood, she said, “I spent a lot of time wandering around and also over into Wildcat Canyon, just looking at the wildflowers and I think that’s what started me in the interest of wildflowers…” Although Ruth originally studied architecture as one of the only women in the program at UC Berkeley, the Great Depression hit and so for the sake of job security, she switched her career to education. It was during her time as a teacher of home economics in Merced that she met Philip Bancroft, Jr., the grandson of Hubert Howe Bancroft, whose 60,000-volume book collection began the Bancroft Library. After they married, the couple moved onto the Bancroft Farm in the East Bay. The Bancroft family sold much of their land to the city of Walnut Creek as it expanded over the years. Later, in 1971, Philip Bancroft, Jr. gave the last 3-acre plot of walnut orchards to his wife in order to house her extensive collection of succulents.

Though The Ruth Bancroft Garden now boasts a beautiful display of water-conserving plants, the garden was not without its hardships at the beginning. Just a few months after Bancroft began her garden, a severe freeze in December killed nearly all that she had planted. Still, she persevered. “Well, I started again the next year… I figured it doesn’t happen that often, and you can’t just not replant those same things, because they might have another twenty years before they’d be killed again. So I’m just replanting. Have to start over again.” To this, Riess queried, “You didn’t think in some way you had been given a message?” Bancroft laughed and replied, “No.”

A long-time friend of Bancroft and former manager at the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden, Wayne Roderick said, “I would classify Ruth as a genuine dirt gardener. She’s out there doing things with her bare hands. She would be out in the garden by seven at the latest, and for the first hour she was weeding the path of the little spotted spurge, hand-weeding those paths until her knees would get so sore from the rocks, the gravel. That’s what I mean by a genuine dirt gardener.” In addition to Bancroft’s hands-on style of working, she also kept meticulous records as she created her garden. An invaluable addition to her oral history is the transcription of the entirety of her handwritten notes on the garden’s first year, cataloguing every trial and triumph. Riess urges in her introduction to the oral history, “Any gardener will do well to read that year of Ruth’s journal, to see the value of a journal, as well as the work involved in realizing a dream, and the necessity of being willing to weed!”

Over the years, Bancroft also had many helpers that contributed to the development of her impressive creation, such as Lester Hawkins, who created the original design of the garden, and her husband Philip. Roderick recalls, “Phil Bancroft just adored Ruth, and he wanted her to have anything she wanted. He did everything he could to help her. I don’t think Phil thought about the garden continuing, but he certainly was there to make sure she got what she wanted for the place. He was a farmer-type, but he enjoyed seeing the garden, and he was willing to get in and help.” Later, her garden would inspire fellow gardener Francis Cabot to create the Garden Conservancy, of which the Ruth Bancroft Garden became the first of many private gardens to be preserved for the public.

Still, through all of the international recognition and acclaim she received, Bancroft maintained a simple and genuine love for gardening: “You never know just what’s going to bloom when, during the summer. And a lot of the bloom just lasts a day, or possibly two days. It’s interesting to see what there is, and catch it before it’s gone.” When asked whether she had had a mission for the garden, she replied, “I just started it for the fun of it, and the enjoyment of it. I had no idea that people would be looking at it, no idea at all.“

The Ruth Bancroft Garden will hold a public, all-day celebration of Bancroft’s life on February 17th, 2018.

Maggie Deng
Oral History Center Student Assistant


Announcing the Release of the California / San Francisco Fire Departments Oral History Project

The world of firefighting is much more than masked people in uniforms running into burning buildings and rescuing scared cats from trees. While the bravery of firefighters can’t be overestimated, they also work in a complex system that requires constant training and education, a cohesive partnership with local government, extensive procedures and protocols, managerial oversight, effective communication within departments and to the public, acute familiarity with the local and regional environment, and a whole lot of administrative work. The San Francisco Fire Department (SFFD) is a shining example of how people make a civil service operation run and keep people safe. All of these elements, as well as the historic and cultural aspects of the department, are why we chose it as our focus for our California Fire Departments Oral History Project.

The project was originally conceived by Sarah Wheelock, an independent researcher. She wanted to explore several major thematic areas of firefighting in California and she worked with the Oral History Center to do just that. With great sadness we learned that Sarah passed away in 2014 and thus she was unable to see the project through to completion. Taking over the project in 2016, I wanted to honor her original plan and cover the themes that she had outlined. So, I decided to embark on interviews within one department – the SFFD – to document the ways in which they have handled urban fire, climate change, diversity, technological change, and changing demographics.

The SFFD was founded in 1849 and was run by volunteers. It became a paid department, officially integrated into city government, in 1866. The 150th anniversary of the paid department was in 2016, when I was conducting interviews. Given my budget for the project, I was able to interview six people who worked with the SFFD in different capacities. I wanted to include multiple perspectives to understand the organizational, cultural, geographic, economic, and political systems of one of the oldest departments in the country.

The individuals who I interviewed were able to illustrate many of the themes that I wanted to document, and much more. Among the six people I interviewed were Chief Robert Demmons (the first and only African American chief of the SFFD who instrumental in integrating more more women and people of color into the SFFD), Bill Koenig (longtime firefighter and co-founder of Guardians of the City and the SFFD Museum), Jim Lee (also a longtime firefighter and co-founder of Guardians of the City and the SFFD Museum), Steve Nakajo (member of the SFFD Fire Commission), Lt. Anne Young (one of the first females hired), and Jonathan Baxter (longtime paramedic and current Public Information Officer). 

These interviews work in concert to illustrate day-to-day operations in the stations, administrative duties, how the city of San Francisco and the department work together, the relationship between paramedics and the department, training, equipment, fire science school, the role of unions, the challenges and triumphs of integrating the departments, the public perception of the department, the role of innovation and changing technology, cultural changes in the department, challenges in fire safety particular to the geography of San Francisco, and the hopes for the future of the SFFD.

It is with great excitement that we present the California / San Francisco Fire Departments Oral History Project. I want to give a special thanks to all of the narrators for sharing their stories with me and helping me to document one of the most historically significant fire departments in our country.

This project is dedicated to the memory of Sarah Wheelock. Her California Firefighter oral histories from the 2000s will be released in early 2018. 


December’s New Books in Art History

You can find these titles and other recent acquisitions on the Art History / Classics Library’s New Book Shelf.

Inextricabilia, enchevêtrement magiques : art brut, art sacré, art contemporain, art rituel africain
Inextricabilia, enchevêtrement magiques : art brut, art sacré, art contemporain, art rituel africain

 

Les rois imaginaires : une histoire visuelle de la monarchie de Charles VIII à Louis XIV
Les rois imaginaires : une histoire visuelle de la monarchie de Charles VIII à Louis XIV

 

Italia / Emmanuel Guibert.
Italia / Emmanuel Guibert.

 

Egon Karl Nicolaus : Arbeiten auf Papier = works on paper, 1956-1988
Egon Karl Nicolaus : Arbeiten auf Papier = works on paper, 1956-1988

 

Academy of Tal R
Academy of Tal R

New Art History Books for November

You can find these titles and other recent acquisitions on the Art History / Classics Library’s New Book Shelf.

Rien ne va plus : tableaux d'une exposition
Rien ne va plus : tableaux d’une exposition 
Fra Bartolommeo : the divine Renaissance
Fra Bartolommeo : the divine Renaissance 
¡Hola Prado! : two collections in dialogue
¡Hola Prado! : two collections in dialogue
Davanti al naturale : contributi sul movimento caravaggesco a Napoli
Davanti al naturale : contributi sul movimento caravaggesco a Napoli
Embodied enlightenment : Samundra Man Singh Shrestha : contemporary Newar paubha paintings
Embodied enlightenment : Samundra Man Singh Shrestha : contemporary Newar paubha paintings

November’s New Books in Art History

You can find these titles and other recent acquisitions on the Art History and Classics Library’s New Book Shelf.

Robert MacPherson, the painter's reach
Robert MacPherson, the painter’s reach.

 

John Bock
John Bock : Wesenspräsenz No 4d / Herausgeber, Thomas Köhler und Stefanie Heckmann ; Konzeption, John Bock ; Übersetzung, Steven Lindberg.
Art in transit.
Art in transit : circle line MRT-Singapore / Justin Zhuang ; artwork photography, Darren Soh.
Jewish avant-garde artists from Hungary
Jewish avant-garde artists from Hungary : from fauvism to surrealism
Otto Piene
Otto Piene

New Books for October

You can find these titles and other recent acquisitions on the Art History and Classics Library’s New Book Shelf.

Frederic Remington : a catalogue raisonné II
Frederic Remington : a catalogue raisonné II  

 

Mass-Observation and visual culture : depicting everyday lives in Britain
Mass-Observation and visual culture : depicting everyday lives in Britain

 

La otra ciudad : recorridos de una gráfica disidente
La otra ciudad : recorridos de una gráfica disidente

 

Roma-Parigi : accademie a confronto : l'Accademia di San Luca e gli artisti francesi, XVII-XIX secolo
Roma-Parigi : accademie a confronto : l’Accademia di San Luca e gli artisti francesi, XVII-XIX secolo

 

Il paradiso riconquistato : trame d'oro e colore nella pittura di Michele Giambono
Il paradiso riconquistato : trame d’oro e colore nella pittura di Michele Giambono

October: New Books in Art History

You can find these titles and other recent acquisitions on the Art History and Classics Library’s New Book Shelf.

Sister Wendy's grand tour : discovering Europe's great art :  Wendy Beckett.
Sister Wendy’s grand tour : discovering Europe’s great art / Wendy Beckett.  
Nina Katchadourian : curiouser
Nina Katchadourian : curiouser

 

Beyond wilderness : Chua Chye Teck.
Beyond wilderness / Chua Chye Teck. 
Il Portale dello Zodiaco alla Sacra di San Michele della Chiusa e l'opera alchemica del Maestro Nicholaus : Cattedrale di Ferrara, Duomo di Verona, Basilica di San Zeno a Verona, Cattedrale di Piacenza / Alessandro Turinetti di Priero.
Il Portale dello Zodiaco alla Sacra di San Michele della Chiusa e l’opera alchemica del Maestro Nicholaus.

 

Picasso primitif / sous la direction d'Yves Le Fur.
Picasso primitif / sous la direction d’Yves Le Fur.

New Art History Books for September 2017

You can find these titles and other recent acquisitions on the Art History and Classics Library’s New Book Shelf.

Keith Morrison / Renée Ater
Keith Morrison / Renée Ater  

 

Kori Newkirk : 1997-2007.
Kori Newkirk : 1997-2007. 

 

Lynette Yiadom-Boakye : any number of preoccupations / Lynette Yiadom-Boakye
Lynette Yiadom-Boakye : any number of preoccupations / Lynette Yiadom-Boakye 

 

Yinka Shonibare.
Yinka Shonibare. 

 

Poéticas do Mangue / [curadoria, Fabio Magalhães ; textos, Fábio Magalhães and others].
Poéticas do Mangue / [curadoria, Fabio Magalhães ; textos, Fábio Magalhães and others].

La rentrée littéraire

September is the month when an unusually high concentration of new publications are released to the European market, notably in France and Belgium. While it may take a few more weeks for these books to reach us in Berkeley and get cataloged, some are already making their way to the shelves. Remember, all new books destined for the Main Stacks are first displayed on the third floor of the Moffitt Library and also listed on the recent acquisitions lists for French, Italian and Iberian studies in OskiCat for your convenience. Enjoy!