At the beginning of the 20th century,
Jane Gallatin Powers and her husband, San Francisco attorney Frank Hubbard
Powers, forged an artists' haven that became Carmel-by-the-Sea. Jane,
Carmel's first painter-in-residence, spent much of a privileged
childhood in the palatial house her father, Albert Gallatin, built in 1877
at 16th and H streets in Sacramento and which later became home to 13
Hers is a story right out of Grimm's
fairy tales— with a tragic ending. Yet the legacy of her art lives on, both
in the enduring spirit of her beloved Carmel and in the artistic vision of
She was born in Sacramento, March 24,
1868 to Albert Gallatin of New York and Clemenza or Nemie Rhodes of Rhode
Island. A self-made man and pioneer backer of the electric industry in
California, Albert Gallatin worked himself up from floor sweeper to
president of Huntington Hopkins Co., then one of the largest hardware, steel
and iron houses on the Pacific coast.
Gallatin's rapid rise enabled him to put
more than $75,000 into furnishing his mansion at a time when homes were
selling for $700, and enabled Jane to travel frequently in Europe, where she
developed a passion for art. In 1891 Jane Gallatin returned to New York,
where she met and married Frank Powers.
Albert Gallatin must have been a tough
act to follow. But in Powers Jane found a man with a hearty spirit and an
entrepreneurial vision who could certainly hold his own. And though Powers
was already prospering in his San Francisco law practice, he was seeking new
lands to conquer—and a worthy partner with whom to conquer them.
The territory the couple set out to
conquer was Carmel-by-the-Sea, a largely unsettled landscape for which Frank
and Jane Powers developed a driving passion, buying up more than
three-quarters of what is now Carmel by 1901, including the sites where the
Sunset Center, the Forest Theater and the Harrison Memorial Library now
Clearly in Carmel the Powers had found a
place to call home. But instead of building a fancy mansion, they chose to
live simply in a rustic log cabin complete with a dirt floor, though it is
true that at one time Jane had the place spruced up with over 20
chandeliers. They called their new home "The Dunes," as it was perched on
the northern edge of the Carmel beach then graced with sand dunes 15 to 20
By 1907, they had three daughters—Grace
Madeleine, Marian Hubbard or "Polly" as she was known, and Dorcas Jane, and
one son, Gallatin. The cabin must have felt terribly crowded, leaving little
room for Jane to paint.
In 1906, the San Francisco Call devoted a
full page to the "artists, poets and writers of Carmel-by-the-Sea," noting
that "Mrs. Frank Powers the artist is revamping the old log ranch on San
Antonio into a livable residence, and the log barn into a studio." Jane was
in fact busy renovating a barn on the property, in which she set up a
These were busy days indeed, with Frank
racing back and forth between his thriving San Francisco law practice and
his work with the Carmel Development Company. By 1902 Powers had brought in
J. Franklin Devendorf to manage the growing enterprise, Devendorf later
becoming Powers' partner. But Powers was a phenomenally busy man even with
Devendorf picking up the slack, and his constant activities left Jane the
task of rearing their four children, renovating "The Dunes" and bringing
culture to Carmel.
Jane's advocacy for the arts played no
small role in the development of the artistic character for which Carmel is
famous, for it was she along with her husband who convinced many of their
artist friends, left homeless by San Francisco's great fire of 1906, to give
Carmel a try.
Among other artists and bohemians of her
day, Jane Powers' guest list included William Merritt Chase, George
Sterling, who was a friend of Frank Powers from the Bohemian Club, and
writer Mary Austin.
An active member of the San Francisco
Sketch Club, where she had been exhibiting her work as early as the 1890s,
Jane Powers had co-founded the San Francisco Spinner's club, and wanted
something similar for her new home. In 1905, she joined Wellesley College
teacher Elsie Allen in founding the Arts and Crafts Club of Carmel, and was
elected vice president. The now-defunct club's summer school contributed
greatly to the further development of Carmel as an art center, and by 1910
the San Francisco Call was reporting that "60 percent (of Carmel's houses
were) built by citizens who (were) devoting their lives to work connected to
the aesthetic arts."
After returning from Mallorca in 1913,
where he had been sent to represent the State of California at Father
Junipero Serra's 200th birthday, Frank Powers was on fire with dreams of
restoring the then-decaying missions—and bearing seedling trees from Petra.
According to Powers' granddaughter Joy Powers, Frank and his son Gallatin
planted the trees down the center of Ocean Avenue. Powers worked to
establish a theater in Carmel and spearheaded the building of the town's
Jane and Frank Powers' dreams for Carmel
were far-reaching indeed. In the 1914 publication, Monterey, Cradle of
California s Romance, writer Grace McFarland quotes a "tall, shrewd,
forceful Yankee lawyer," as saying, "Any man who is producing sentiment
(using the word in its best sense) either with tongue or with pen, by clay
or by brush or by gut, can have as much of my land to use for one dollar a
year as he wants...in a climate that never gets cold and never gets hot and
never prevents him from working at his best." The goal being in McFarland's
words, to create in Carmel "an artist's empire of the soul."
Then, from a story credited to Anya
Seton, acclaimed author and Jane Powers' niece, Jane Gallatin Powers fell in
love with a painter named Funk and sailed off to Italy with him, leaving her
husband and young children behind. Apparently, the affair was short-lived,
and when she returned it was never spoken of—least not within hearing of the
children. The story goes that Frank acted as if nothing had happened, and it
was believed that the couple had reconciled.
But in 1914, Frank Powers rewrote his
will, settling on his wife only a fixed monthly allowance and the right to
homestead either their San Francisco home or Carmel home.
Who was this Funk? In 1909 a portrait of
Jane Gallatin Powers was commissioned from an artist by the name of Wilhelm
Heinrich Funk. Perhaps the painter fell in love with his subject, and his
affection was returned. At any rate, her abrupt departure and precipitous
return would have no doubt set tongues to wagging, and broken Frank Powers'
In 1920, Frank Powers died of chronic
uremia at the age of 56. Within months, Jane set sail for France with Polly,
Dorcas Jane, and Gallatin. Madeleine, their eldest child, had by this time
married and set up housekeeping in the Powers' San Francisco home and did
not accompany her mother on the voyage.
What became of her artist's studio in
Carmel? Six months before Frank Powers' death, he sold "The Dunes" and the
80-plus acres on which it stood to James Allan and Maud MacKenzie of San
And her paintings? According to her
granddaughter Lolly Fassett, who was nine years old the year Jane Powers set
sail for Europe, she burned them all.
Jane Powers settled her children in
French schools and resumed painting, setting up studios in Paris, Rome and
Capri. In the late '20s, her granddaughter, the late Lolly Fassett, joined
her and spent six years as a traveling companion and frequent model. Lolly
spoke frequently of her time in Europe with her grandmother. A story
remembered by her son Kaffe Fassett, now a world renowned artist and
designer, was that Jane Powers had her own doorknobs installed in whichever
hotel they visited. They seemed to make her feel more at home.
Why did Jane Powers never return to
Carmel? Perhaps part of the answer lies with her children. In 1925,
Polly married Marino Dusmet de Smours, the son of a Neapolitan duke and
himself the podesta (or "governor") of Capri. Marino and Polly set up
housekeeping in the Dusmet de Smours family estate known appropriately as
And in 1927, after a three-week
courtship, Dorcas Jane married Roberto
Pennazzi-Ricci, who was, according to
the San Francisco Call, "a dashing Italian aviator and member of a prominent
family." Tragically, Dorcas Jane died of fever in 1929 only days before her
29th birthday, leaving a young daughter, Roberta. And, perhaps in the
environment of Capri itself, Jane Powers found a kindred spirit to Carmel,
for photographs of the island show a seaside terrain uncannily reminiscent
of the Carmel Highlands.
Jane Powers was not one to look back. She
was consumed with her work, and had begun studying with the highly regarded
Modernist teacher Andre L'Hote. Her paintings from this era are infused with
light and are highly abstractionist, favoring the overlapping planes of
Cubism just emerging in Paris in the '20s. Her Capri cityscapes and striking
portraits were shown at the Salon des Tuileries and the Salon des Independants in Paris, and her work was shown in Rome and Capri as well.
Then came the Crash of 1929, and
subsequent Depression. Her monthly allowance, once as much as $775 per
month, was reduced to little more than $200. With her children suffering
from financial hardships, she even attempted to sell off some of the rugs of
her San Francisco home, but to no avail.
Then came World War II, and with it the
Nazi occupation of Rome, the city where she had at last hung up her
traveling shoes and settled. In 1941, Polly was removed to a detention camp
in Addis Ababa and Gallatin joined the U.S. Navy and began his tour of duty
in the South Pacific. His attempts to reach his mother during this time were
fruitless, as all his letters were returned censored.
Her funds were by now completely cut off,
and with essentials almost impossible to obtain, one needed friends outside
the city to bring in such luxuries as milk, eggs and fruit. The streets of
Rome were rampant with rumors that the Gestapo was making house calls,
shooting on sight all who were suspected of being Allied sympathizers.
Life for Jane Powers must have been
harrowing indeed. In San Francisco, Madeleine grew increasingly desperate
for information about her mother's well-being. In 1942, word had been
received that Jane Powers needed a copy of her birth certificate, without
which she could not obtain a food ration card or prove her Aryan heritage to
the Fascists. The necessary documents never reached her.
But there was some hope that Madeleine's
son, Seth Ulman, then a 24-year-old medic with the U.S. Army, could get
through to the city and find out if his grandmother was still alive. He had
his chance shortly after the liberation of Rome.
"I was in the city the day Rome was
liberated from the Nazis," says Ulman, now a retired theater professor
living in Monterey. "I remember the gates opening, streams of soldiers
coming through. I saw German snipers in the windows of apartment buildings
and frantic women throwing themselves on top of my Jeep, men ripping rose
bushes out of the ground and hurling the flowers in the air."
"I knew that Jane Powers was in the
city," he continues, "but of course, I could not leave my platoon." He was
in the Pyrenees Mountains before things had calmed down enough for his
petition for a three-day leave to be granted. At last he was able to return
to Rome to find the grandmother he had never met.
"We were all worried sick, after the
years of anxiety, wondering is she alive? Yet when at last I found her, she
seemed quite unconcerned with her fate, and totally disinterested in me, a
young romantic GI on leave from his platoon expressly to see how she was
What Ulman found was a 76-year-old woman
living in a cocoon of ritual, her existence a paradox of poverty and
elegance. Living in a tiny apartment furnished with 14 th-century antiques,
the walls hung with her oil paintings, and with a servant to set the table,
she prepared a scant meal from the remnants of food sent by the Swiss
consulate. "We ate dried plants, some unnamed vegetable," Ulman remembers.
Each day of his visit, they went for a
walk down the same street, looking in the windows of the same shops, but
never buying anything. To "shake her up," Ulman hired a carriage to tour the
Borghese gardens. She remained aloof until it came time to pay the driver.
Then, in fierce Italian, she sprang to life, convincing the driver to accept
half what he was asking. "You must learn Neapolitan gestures," she chided
Yet still, she seemed morose,
unreachable. On their last day together, Ulman purchased some art prints
from a local shop. Together they pored over the images. In this, at last,
she seemed authentically interested, "telling me what worked, and what
didn't—and why," Ulman recalls. She was no longer painting, but there
remained within her a glimmer of that past life.
But then there was one moment of pure pleasure that to this day Ulman has
not forgotten. "One afternoon we stopped for tea, as was her custom. And
from her purse she withdrew a matchbox of sugar, hoarded from aid sent over
by the Swiss consulate. She dipped a cookie in her tea and then rolled the
cookie in the sugar. Gingerly, with great delicacy, she lifted it to her
mouth and tasted it. It was the one great pleasure of her day." Perhaps the
"cocoon" of routine was Jane's protection from brutal reality.
On December 18,1944, shortly after her
grandson's visit, Jane Gallatin Powers died. The cause of death was thought
to be advanced arteriosclerosis.
And her paintings? When her eldest
daughter, Madeleine Powers Ulman Leoni, died in 1980, dozens of Jane
Gallatin Powers' Italian paintings were unearthed in the basement of her
Carmel home. They had been stored, sight unseen, for more than three
decades. Incredibly, most of the paintings survived unscathed, and many have
been restored. In 1983, San Francisco's prestigious Maxwell Gallery mounted
a retrospective of California's early women painters, and included three of
Though the bulk of her paintings were not
shown until almost 40 years after her death, Jane Powers' artistic vision
lives on through her descendants.
Her son Gallatin returned to California
after the conclusion of the war, and founded two successful and famous
restaurants: Gallatin's Grub and Grog (later called the Crocodile's Tail) at
Bixby Bridge, in Big Sur, and Gallatin's in the historic Stokes Adobe in
Monterey (now a restaurant of the same name).
Jane's granddaughter Lolly returned from
her six years abroad to create (along with her husband Bill Fassett) the now
legendary Nepenthe restaurant, known in the '40s and '50s as a watering hole
for such latter-day bohemians as Henry Miller, Man Ray and Eric Barker.
Jane Powers would be pleased to know that
her great-grandson Kaffe Fassett won the prestigious Salamagundi Prize for
painting and in 1968 began a revolution in knitwear with his extraordinary
use of color. Another great-granddaughter is Heidi McGurrin, a fine art
photographer living and working in the Carmel area.
And her beloved Carmel-by-the-Sea? In
this seaside resort now world famous for its fog-shrouded pine trees and
European charm, the artistic values of Jane and Frank Powers continue to be
debated to this day.
At a time when it was uncommon for women
to do so, Jane Gallatin Powers chose art and love as her guiding values. Yet
she was also a real partner to her husband for almost two decades, together
creating a city and rearing four children in whom she inspired heartfelt
devotion. It is ironic that her art, which was celebrated in her own
lifetime, has been virtually neglected since her death.
Today her restored paintings hang proudly
on the walls of her great-great-grandchildren's homes, providing a glimpse
of another time, another place, through the eyes of an extraordinary woman.
For more information, visit
Note: The Historic Governor's Mansion
honored the legacy of Jane Gallatin Powers with a four month exhibition.
Curated by her great-great granddaughter Erin Gafill, the show brought
together paintings, photographs, textiles, and personal ephemera with
interpretive wall statements. The exhibit was installed in Jane's own