Paris: American Expatriate Genius

5 lectures and 2 performances. Postwar Paris, with its tolerant and cosmopolitan atmosphere (and its low cost of living), attracted a startling number of America’s cultural icons to live and work among the European avant-garde in a moveable feast of creativity. The exhilaration of Paris in the 1920s and 1930s inspired talented American expatriates crossing national, cultural, and artistic boundaries to create innovative modern forms of their art. Gertrude Stein’s “Une generation perdue” living on the edge, this generation of American artistic geniuses exuberantly and profoundly influenced literature, art, filmmaking, music, dance, and theater, reshaping twentieth-century American culture.

Friday: 7:30 to 10 pm


Paris and the Making of the Modern in the Arts.
onald W. Faulkner. (Director, NY State Writers Institute)

Despite the disastrous impact of the Great War on Europe, Paris became a center for the making of “the modern” in the arts. In the visual arts, expatriates Picasso, Man Ray, and Juan Gris made great art alongside the Frenchman Matisse. In literature major expatriate artists such as Stein, Hemingway, and Joyce encountered Paris-born literary movements like Dadaism and surrealism. A cluster of collaborators including Diaghilev, Stravinksy, Nijinsky, and Debussy dominated theater, music, and dance. Creativity abounded in jazz, film and the architecture of designs in clothing, furniture, and everyday appliances. Paris in the early twentieth century was a receptive and influencing ground for energy, innovation, and the cross-fertilization of ideas. Professor Faulkner paints a portrait of an open city, a living and vibrant culture, and the people, especially from America, who came there to change the world of art and in the process change themselves.

20-minute Intermission

Performance: Virgil Thomson’s Portraits.
Luciano Chessa
 (SF Conservatory of Music)

introduces us to Virgil Thomson through his direct experience working on Thomson’s music for Chessa’s new opera A Heavenly Act, a contemporary homage to Thomson’s Four Saints in Three Acts. A Heavenly Act and Four Saints share a Gertrude Stein libretto, and both were presented by SFMOMA with the Ensemble Parallèle at the Novellus Theater of Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in August 2011. Chessa performs some of Thomson’s chamber scores for piano, as well as music that influenced Thomson (Erik Satie’s Le Piège de Méduse) and music that Thomson influenced (Chessa’s Saint Teresa I’s Aria from A Heavenly Act). With Heidi Moss (soprano) and Benjamin Kreith (violin).

Saturday, 10 am to noon and 1:30-4:30 pm.


America is my country and Paris is my hometown.” Gertrude Stein: Transatlantic Artist, Mentor, and Muse.
Wanda M. Corn
 (Art History, Stanford)

Though she visited her native land only once during four decades of expatriation in France, Gertrude Stein led a bi-continental life. Never assimilating fully to her adopted country, she built a reputation as an accomplished American writer, collector, and doyenne in Paris. She became a major cultural conduit between young American writers, artists, and composers and their European counterparts. Between the two world wars, Americans eagerly sought Stein’s approval and the benefit of her international connections. This lecture focuses on Stein’s rise to prominence in Paris and on her American admirers and protegés, including Marsden Hartley, Charles Demuth, Carl Van Vechten, and Virgil Thomson.

20-minute intermission

“Becoming a Modern Artist”: the Paris Angle.
Deborah Loft (Art History, College of Marin)

Paris in the Twenties and Thirties was a magnet for many gifted American visual artists, and had a defining effect on some. Arriving in a Paris which was intrigued by American culture, they found new stimulation, support, and freedom for their work and their lives. The experience of each artist was strongly individual. As a way of exploring a spectrum of experiences, identities, and visual media, we will explore the role which Paris played in the art of Man Ray, Loïs Mailou Jones, and Isamu Noguchi, with a briefer look at others who made the journey.

12 noon Lunch Break. Program resumes at 1:30 pm.
Paris Portraits.
Laura Sheppard (actress) brings to life the voice of Harriet Lane Levy, a popular San Francisco culture and drama critic for the literary journal The Wave and later for The Call. In 1907 she moved to Paris with Alice B. Toklas and found herself immersed in a strange and vibrant world. In her sparkling Stories of Picasso, Matisse, Gertrude Stein, and Their Circle, Levy tells of her initiation into the Parisian lifestyle and salons of the Steins (Gertrude and brother Leo, Michael and wife Sarah), the rivalry between Picasso and Matisse, wild nights in Montmartre, and her own discoveries as a single woman abroad. Her portrait of Paris is simultaneously grand and intimate. Harriet’s paintings, including The Girl with Green Eyes by Matisse and Scène de Rue by Picasso, are at SFMOMA. This salon performance is directed and designed by Suzanne Stassevich. PianistKaren Rosenak provides accompaniment, playing the music of Erik Satie and other composers of that era.

At Home Far Away: African Americans in Paris.
Tyler Stovall (History, UC Berkeley)

Dean Stovall considers the history of black American expatriates in Paris during the twentieth century. Starting with the first world war, he discusses how African Americans were able to create a sense of community, and ultimately of tradition, in the French capitol. Dean Stovall considers two periods in particular. The first, the 1920s and 1930s, looks at the arrival of jazz in Paris and the establishment of a community of black performers in Montmartre, paying particular attention to Josephine Baker and Bricktop as icons of that community. The second focuses on the 1950s and 1960s, exploring the colony of writers and political activists centered around Richard Wright on the Left Bank. Both the civil rights movement at home and the Algerian war in France forced expatriates to rethink their lives in Paris.


A Literary Revolution: The Expatriate Press in Paris.
Donald W. Faulkner (Director, NY State Writers Institute)

Few American (or English-speaking) writers in Paris in the 1920s and 30s would ever have been discovered, let alone read, were it not for the small presses there. Only San Francisco’s publishers in the 1950s through the 70s (and some would say still) rival the small press revolution in Paris in the 20s. Many know of Sylvia Beach’s work at Shakespeare and Company to publish James Joyce’sUlysses, but few realize that outside of F. Scott Fitzgerald virtually no American expatriate in Paris had any hope of getting published in the United States. Professor Faulkner profiles writers Hemingway, Djuna Barnes, Kay Boyle, Stein, Eliot, Pound, and Henry Miller; and publishers like Nancy Cunard and The Hours Press, Caresse and Harry Crosby and The Black Sun Press, William Bird and Three Mountains Press, Maurice Girodias and Obelisk Press, and Sylvia Beach. In Paris, the lack of censorship and the access of writers to their publishers made American literature in the twentieth century.

Concluding Panel Discussion        

Conclusion: 4:30 pm


As a composer, conductor, pianist, and musical saw/Vietnamese dan bau soloist, Luciano Chessa has been active in Europe, the US, and Australia. Recent compositions include A Heavenly Act, an opera with video by Kalup Linzy commissioned by the SFMOMA and premiered by the Ensemble Paralléle. As a music historian Chessa completed Luigi Russolo Futurist. Noise, Visual Arts, and the Occult, the first monograph on the Futurist Russolo’s Art of Noise, out on UC Press in March 2012. Chessa’s Futurist expertise resulted in an invitation from New York’s PERFORMA to direct/conduct the first reconstruction of Russolo’s earliest intonarumori orchestra. The production was hailed by The New York Times as one of the best events in the arts of 2009; in March 2011 Chessa presented it in a sold out concert for Berliner Festspiele-Maerzmusik Festival; in December 2011 Chessa conducted it with the New World Symphony as part of Art Basel|Miami Beach.

Wanda Corn, PhD, Robert and Ruth Halperin Professor Emerita of Art History, Stanford University, curated a 2011 exhibition and book–Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories–for the Contemporary Jewish Museum of San Francisco and the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC. Her museum exhibitions and books include The Color of Mood: American Tonalism 1990-1910 (1972); The Art of Andrew Wyeth (1973); and Grant Wood: The Regionalist Vision (1983). In 2005-06, she transformed her major study, The Great American Thing: Modern Art and American Identity, 1915-35 (UC Press, 1999), into a museum exhibition. Dr. Corn’s scholarship on transatlantic modernism focuses on the exchanges and interdependencies of modern artists in Paris and New York, conceptualizing an Atlantic rim ofavant-garde culture. She has just completed a book on the decorations woman artists made for the 1893 Woman’s Building at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

New York State Writers Institute Director Donald W. Faulkner, an authority on Lost Generation and Beat Generation writers, is a featured commentator in the PBS documentary “Paris: The Luminous Years,” and in the A&E Biography/Crisman Films documentary, “The Lost Generation.” Faulkner has published two collections of poems, and has edited four books of writings by eminent literary critic Malcolm Cowley, including The Portable Cowley, The Penguin 20th Century Classics Edition of Exile’s Return, and Malcolm Cowley on New England Writers and Writing. He is a former director of the University at Albany’s Center for Arts and Humanities, and an associate professor of English. In addition to being the interviewer-of-record for more than 1,000 hours of Writers Institute archive recordings of visiting writers, and the host of more than 100 on-stage interviews, Faulkner is the director and executive producer of films made from archive materials. Faulkner is currently at work on a memoir of his Writers Institute experiences.

Violinist Benjamin Kreith recently spent several years in Montana playing and teaching as a member of the Cascade Quartet and concertmaster of the Great Falls Symphony. He has performed as a guest artist with the Ying and Muir Quartets and premiered solo works at the festivals in Strasbourg and Marseille. Kreith helped to found the Ensemble CGAC in Santiago de Compostela, which worked with distinguished composers including Francisco Guerrero and Magnus Lindberg. His live recording of Christian Lauba’sKwintus for violin solo is available on the Accord/Universal CD Morphing.

Deborah Loft is Art History Professor at College of Marin, where she has received the Distinguished Teaching Award. Prior to that, her work at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco included assisting Wanda Corn on the exhibitions The Color of Mood: American Tonalism 1890-1910 (1972) andThe Art of Andrew Wyeth (1973). She has taught and lectured at Bay Area museums, including the Getting to Know Modern Art series at SFMOMA. She has taught art history at the Institute for American Universities in Aix-en-Provence, where she has also taken painting classes using plein-airtechniques. On her many visits to Paris, she has made a special point of exploring the neighborhoods where artists of various generations lived, in order to have a better sense of their daily milieu and artistic motifs.

Kerrin Meis received her MA at UC Berkeley.  After lecturing at SF State University for many years, she is currently teaching Art History classes for the Emeritus program at the College of Marin and at Book Passage in Corte Madera, where she recently concluded a class: Innocents Abroad: American Artists in Europe and classes on artists working in the South of France . Classes for the OLLI program at Dominican University have included The Art of Islam, Early Medieval Art and The Art of Anatolia: her focus is on the interaction among artists of different cultures made visible in the recurrence of certain symbols and motifs in architecture, painting and sculpture. Kerrin has led travel/study programs in France.

Heidi Moss (Soprano) relocated to the Bay area from NYC in 2003 and has performed with area companies such as West Bay Opera, Pocket Opera, Livermore Opera, Fremont Symphony, Oakland Symphony, Sacramento Choral Society, and the San Francisco Lyric Opera. She also has been a part of the San Francisco Opera family as Rosina in their outreach production ofThe Barber of Seville and with the Adler Fellows in a premiere of Gang Situs opera The Grand Seducers. This past year, she also worked with composer/benefactor Gordon Getty to record his new opera Usher Housewith both the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and the Russian National Orchestra. She was also thrilled to be a part of Ensemble Paralelle and SF MoMA’s groundbreaking production of 4 Saints in 3 Acts in August of 2011.

Karen Rosenak (Pianist) is an almost-native of the Bay Area. She was a founding member and pianist of the Empyrean Ensemble and EARPLAY, two Bay Area new music ensembles. She studied modern piano with Carlo Bussotti and Nate Schwartz, and fortepiano with Margaret Fabrizio. She is currently a full-time senior lecturer at UCB, where she has taught since 1990, and serves on the Board of the Noe Valley Chamber Music series.

Laura Sheppard (Actress) trained professionally in theater and dance and received her BFA in acting from Boston University’s School of Fine Arts. She has extensive background in experimental theater and had her own company, Gestural Theatre, in Boston for many years. Her solo show, Still Life with Stein, based on the writings of Gertrude Stein, toured to festivals in the US and Europe. She has worked as an events producer for over twenty-five years and produced the Earth Day Celebration and Ceremonies in Times Square (1990, New York City) and the Jewish Music Festival (JCCEB and Bay Area locations 1998, 1999). Since 2000 she has worked as Director of Events at the Mechanics’ Institute, San Francisco, where she presents author events and cultural programs. She continues to create and perform dramatic readings inspired by writers and great literature.

Suzanne Stassevitch (Designer, Director) developed an interest in theatrical productions based on literature and poetry while studying at the University of Missouri–Kansas City. She later received her MA in theater and directing from San Francisco State College. She worked with the San Francisco Opera for twenty-two years as head of wardrobe and was costume supervisor for many productions abroad. Suzanne collaborated with Laura Sheppard in 2007 as a directing consultant and as set and costume designer for the remounted production of Still Life with Stein. In 2008 she directed a staged reading of stories by William Saroyan for A Salute to Saroyan at the Mechanics’ Institute Library. Suzanne continues to pursue a lifelong passion for costumes and textiles with her own work. She is a member of the board of the Textile Arts Council at San Francisco Fine Arts Museum.

Tyler Stovall is a professor of French history and Dean of the Undergraduate Division at UC Berkeley. He has written several books and articles on the subject of modern French history, focusing on race, labor, colonialism and post-colonialism. Major publications include The Rise of the Paris Red Belt (1990), Paris Noir:  African Americans in the City of Light(1996), and The Color of Liberty: Histories of Race in France (co-edited with Sue Peabody, 2003).  A new book, Paris and the Spirit of 1919: Consumer Struggles, Transnationalism, and Revolution, is forthcoming from Cambridge in 2012. Professor Stovall is currently working on a textbook entitledUniversal Nation:  a transnational history of modern France. He serves on the Humanities West Board of Directors.