The Summer of Love Experience: Art, Fashion, and Rock & Roll

April 8–August 20, 2017

In the mid-1960s, artists, activists, writers, and musicians converged on Haight-Ashbury with hopes of creating a new social paradigm. In the summer of 1967, this small portion of the city would attract as many as 100,000 young people from all over the nation. The neighborhood became ground zero for their activities, and nearby Golden Gate Park their playground. This exhibition celebrates the 50th anniversary of that legendary summer.

One of the most significant precursors to San Francisco’s 1960s counterculture was the artistic and literary movement known as the Beat Generation, which blossomed from the mid-1950s. The Beats critiqued the pervasive censorship and conformity of post–World War II America. While the Beats were largely apolitical, by the 1960s, contemporary events prompted many associated with the movement to speak up in defense of civil freedoms. This combination of Beat influences and a burgeoning political consciousness led to the emergence by the mid-1960s of the “hippie.”

Ultimately you can listen to only one thing, not your president, not your many misguided leaders, save a few... You must listen to your own heart and do what it dictates. Because your heart is the only thing which can tell you what is right and what is wrong.

Joan Baez, 1965

Police attack protesters of the House Un-American Activities Committee at San Francisco’s City Hall, May 13
Police attack protesters of the House Un-American Activities Committee at San Francisco’s City Hall, May 13 Photo by Bob Campbell | 1960 | Courtesy of the San Francisco Chronicle. 05122992 Bob Campbell / San Francisco Chronicle / Polaris Images

In 1960 the House Un-American Activities Committee arrived in San Francisco to hold hearings. The committee denied entrance to local college students. Those who refused to leave were dispersed by the police department, who used fire hoses to force the assembled group down the grand staircase of City Hall.

In 1964 a group of San Francisco State students, in collaboration with the Congress of Racial Equality, staged protests that effectively forced the city’s auto dealerships to integrate their work forces.

Also in 1964 the Free Speech Movement was born in Sproul Plaza at UC Berkeley, a protest unprecedented in scale in which advocates of free speech and academic freedom demanded that the university administration lift the ban on on-campus political activities.

The Beginnings of the San Francisco Sound

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Fillmore light show Jim Marshall | March/April 1967 | Inkjet print | Courtesy Jim Marshall Photography LLC. © Jim Marshall Photography LLC

The hippies are eclectic; they draw ideas from everywhere.

Thomas Albright, 1968

The psychedelic rock band the Charlatans were early pioneers of the musical style that became known as the San Francisco Sound, which was characterized less by a specific musical signature than by an eagerness to experiment with different styles and instruments. This poster, advertising a 1965 June residency in Virginia City, Nevada, is considered the first psychedelic rock poster. It is a mash-up of Victorian and Wild West typography—elements of late 19th-century visual culture associated with the band’s San Francisco origins—and graphic illustrations that prepared concertgoers for an unconventional performance.

Michael Ferguson and George Hunter, "'The Seed,' The Amazing Charlatans, June 1–15, Red Dog Saloon, Virginia City, Nevada", 1965
“The Seed,” The Amazing Charlatans, June 1–15, Red Dog Saloon, Virginia City, Nevada Michael Ferguson and George Hunter | 1965 | Offset lithograph poster printed in blue ink | Center for Counterculture Studies. © Michael Ferguson and George Hunter
Herb Greene, "The Charlatans", 1967 (printed 2006)
The Charlatans, [left to right: George Hunter, Richie Olsen, Mike Wilhelm, Dan Hicks, and Mike Ferguson] Herb Greene | 1967 (printed 2006) | Gelatin silver print | Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Gift of the Landon Foundation, 2016.87.3. © Herb Greene

The Charlatans cultivated a public persona that evoked both 19th-century Victorian dandies and Wild West gunslingers, as seen in this 1967 photograph. Founding band member George Hunter explained, “We were searching for an identity. We wanted to promote something that was uniquely American and identified us as from San Francisco as opposed to being an imitation of the British, which is what everyone else was doing.”

The Charlatans were inspired by San Francisco’s storied past and changing present, an approach soon copied by other local bohemians. In the 1960s, urban renewal projects disrupted San Francisco’s Western Addition neighborhood; Victorian homes were being torn down and the city was brimming with vintage clothes and collectibles. The counterculture, looking for something unique and inexpensive, began wearing “old-timey” clothing; before long, the style became a signature look of the hippies. This men’s ensemble was worn by George Hunter.

Men and Women's ensembles
L: Men's ensemble | ca. 1890-1960s | Wool blend twill-weave jacket; wool twill-weave vest with metal watch fob chain; cotton plain-weave shirt with striped bib and starched cotton plain-weave detachable collar; cotton twill pants; leather shoes; and plaited straw hat with grosgrain ribbon | Collection of George Hunter. The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, photography by Randy Dodson | R: Women’s ensemble | ca. 1890s | Cotton plain-weave blouse with drawnwork cuffs and collar trimmed with machine-made lace and shell buttons | silk supplementary-weft patterned vest; striped cotton plain-weave skirt; and plaited synthetic hat with grosgrain ribbon, synthetic flowers, net, and metal hat pin | Collection of Jean Stewart. The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, photography by Randy Dodson

Trips Festival

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Film clip from S.F. Trips Festival, An Opening Ben Van Meter | 1966 | Film (color), duration: 9 minutes, sound | Courtesy of the artist. © Ben Van Meter

In the mid-1960s, the powerful psychedelic drug LSD was still legal. Author Ken Kesey, who had received his first doses of LSD through a government testing program, decided with his friends, who called themselves the Merry Pranksters, to conduct their own informal “acid tests” a series of participatory experiments designed to spread insider knowledge of the drug. The largest of these was a massive three-day event called the Trips Festival, in 1966.

Wes Wilson, "Front of the program for 'Trips Festival', Ken Kesey, Merry Pranksters, Allen Ginsberg, Stewart Brand, Grateful Dead, Big Brother & the Holding Company, and many, many others, January 21–23, Longshoremen’s Hall", 1966 Wes Wilson, "Back of the program for 'Trips Festival', Ken Kesey, Merry Pranksters, Allen Ginsberg, Stewart Brand, Grateful Dead, Big Brother & the Holding Company, and many, many others, January 21–23, Longshoremen’s Hall", 1966
"Front and back of the program for 'Trips Festival', Ken Kesey, Merry Pranksters, Allen Ginsberg, Stewart Brand, Grateful Dead, Big Brother & the Holding Company, and many, many others, January 21–23, Longshoremen’s Hall" Wes Wilson | 1966 | Offset lithograph handbill | Collection of John J. Lyons. © Wes Wilson

This festival program, created with a limited color palette, is one of the first attempts to use visual optics to simulate the teeming energy participants might expect to experience at a psychedelic happening.

Wide-angle view of center stage and crowd. Trips Festival at Longshoremen’s Hall, January 21
Wide-angle view of center stage and crowd. Trips Festival at Longshoremen’s Hall, January 21 Gene Anthony | 1966 | Gelatin silver print | Courtesy of the Bancroft Library, University of Berkeley, BANC PIC 2001.196:45-B. © Wolfgang’s Vault

The Trips Festival was a multimedia extravaganza complete with light shows and rock bands. Big Brother and the Holding Company and the Grateful Dead performed; upwards of 10,000 people attended, many of them dancing and imbibing punch spiked with LSD. The Trips Festival launched a brand new type of multisensory dance concert experience and set the stage for the unique presentation of some of the greatest rock bands of the sixties. Experimental filmmaker Ben Van Meter attended the Trips Festival and documented it with his Bolex camera. He then rewound the film and exposed it each successive night. After having the triple-exposed film developed, he spliced the rolls together. He has called the resulting film “A documentary of the event from the POV of a goldfish in the Kool-Aid bowl.”

Outside is inside, how does it look?

Ken Kesey at the Trips Festival, 1966

Awakening in the Park

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Large crowd at the Human Be-In at Polo Fields. Golden Gate Park, January 14 Gene Anthony | 1967 | Gelatin silver print | Courtesy of the Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, BANC PIC 2001.196:60-B. © Wolfgang’s Vault

Golden Gate Park provided the countercultural movement with an expansive space to gather and commune. Youths mingled at Hippie Hill, and throughout the park rock bands and theater troupes provided free performances aimed at disrupting behavioral norms.

  • Haight Street

  • Hippie Hill

  • Gathering of the Tribes

  • Golden Gate Park

 

On January 14, 1967, the park served as the backdrop for an event designed to unify the political activists of Berkeley with the bohemians of the Haight-Ashbury. The event promoted as “A Gathering of the Tribes for a Human Be-In” marked the collective consciousness of this youthful underground.

Timothy Leary on stage at Human Be-In at Polo Fields. Golden Gate Park, January 14
Timothy Leary on stage at Human Be-In at Polo Fields. Golden Gate Park, January 14 Gene Anthony | 1967 | Gelatin silver print | Wolfgang’s Vault, Courtesy of the Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley | Courtesy of the Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, BANC PIC 2201.196:62-B

Roughly 40,000 people attended the “Be-In,” including families and children. Attendees arrived with drums, incense, chimes, feathers, and candles. Beat luminaries such as Allen Ginsberg participated in the event, which also featured performances by rock bands such as Big Brother and the Holding Company, Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service, and the Grateful Dead. The primary apostle of Zen Buddhism in America, Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, attended the gathering, where LSD advocate Timothy Leary delivered the already famous mantra “Tune in, turn on, and drop out.”

All in all the hippies are peaceful. They’re just a little annoying at times because they want complete freedom.

Lt. John Curran, Park Police Station, 1967

The poster for the event featured a Native American on horseback. Native American references served as a constant within the counterculture of the 1960s. The hippies admired the native traditions of communal living, anti-consumerism, and protection of the environment. It should be noted that this appropriation was not wholly welcomed by all native communities.

Pow-Wow: A Gathering of the Tribes for Human Be-In, Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert, Dick Gregory,  Lenore Kandel, Jerry Rubin, All S.F. Rock Bands, Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gary Snyner, Michael McClure, Robert Baker, Buddha, January 14, Polo
Pow-Wow: A Gathering of the Tribes for Human Be-In, Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert, Dick Gregory, Lenore Kandel, Jerry Rubin, All S.F. Rock Bands, Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gary Snyner, Michael McClure, Robert Baker, Buddha, Rick Griffin | Polo Grounds, Golden Gate Park, January 14, 1967 | Offset lithograph poster | Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Gift of the Gary Westford Collection, in Celebration of the Golden Gate Park and the City of San Francisco, 2017.7.13. © Rick Griffin

The Human Be-In served as an awakening of sorts for the participants. Looking around, attendees saw others dressed in bohemian fashions and realized that their views and attitudes were shared by thousands.

Music and Dance Venues

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Film stills from "S.F. Trips Festival, An Opening" Ben Van Meter | 1966 | Film (color), duration: 9 minutes, sound | Courtesy of the artist. © Ben Van Meter

The eruption of the San Francisco music scene was due in large part to two major local figures: Bill Graham and Chet Helms. These two music promoters competed for acts and audiences for their legendary concerts at the Fillmore Auditorium and the Avalon Ballroom. These events were more participatory than those held elsewhere, partly because there was no seating at either venue, only large vacant spaces waiting to be filled with music enthusiasts. Both Graham and Helms commissioned extraordinary posters to advertise these events, distributing thousands each week.

"Skeleton and Roses", Grateful Dead, Oxford Circle, September 16 & 17, Avalon Ballroom Page from "The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám"
POSTER: Stanley Mouse and Alton Kelley | "'Skeleton and Roses', Grateful Dead, Oxford Circle, September 16 & 17, Avalon Ballroom" | 1966 | Color offset lithograph poster | 20 x 14 in. (50.8 x 35.5 cm) | 1966, 1984, 1994 Rhino Entertainment Company. Used with permission. All rights reserved. www.familydog.com | Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Museum purchase, Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts Endowment Fund, 1974.13.100. Artwork by Stanley Mouse and Alton Kelley | ILLUSTRATION: Edmund Sullivan | Page from "The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám" | first published 1913 | Letterpress | 6 3/8 x 3 7/8 in. (16.9 x 9.8 cm) | Page used by Stanley Mouse and Alton Kelley for “Skeleton and Roses,” 1966 | Collection of Stanley Mouse

The Avalon Ballroom was the main venue used by Chet Helms and his music production company Family Dog Productions, who hired the Grateful Dead to play there 29 times from 1966 through 1969. This now-iconic poster of a skeleton with roses was appropriated from an illustration included in a 1913 translation of 12th-century Persian poems. The poster artists Stanly Mouse and Alton Kelly discovered the image in a book at a San Francisco library where they frequently hunted for inspiration.

The artists were struck by how much this image and its accompanying poem reminded them of the Grateful Dead. Artists and designers of the 1960s frequently sourced images from a variety of popular and cultural sources throughout history and the globe.

Pastel Stellar Blue Mandala (detail) Courtenay Pollock | ca. 1972 | Cotton; resist-dyed (fold-resist) | Collection of the artist. © Courtenay Pollock

Eastern religious thought permeated much of the art and thinking of the 1960s. Textile artist Courtenay Pollock was fascinated both by the age-old and worldwide craft of tie-dye and by the mandala, a spiritual and ritual symbol representing the universe in Hinduism and Buddhism.

Jerry Garcia and Grateful Dead performance set including tie-dyed speaker covers designed by Courtenay Pollock, Château d’Hérouville, France, 1971. Photo by Rosie McGee

Pollock met the Grateful Dead and was immediately commissioned to create tie-dye speaker fronts for the band, for which he created a mandala. Tie-dye was soon omnipresent at Grateful Dead concerts; the crowd awash in tie-dye became a symbol of the tribe.

Forms and rhythms in music are never changed without producing changes in the most important political forms and ways.

Plato, Republic, as quoted by Ralph J. Gleason, 1967

Canned Heat, Gordon Lightfoot, Cold Blood, October 3–5, Fillmore West
Canned Heat, Gordon Lightfoot, Cold Blood, October 3–5, Fillmore West Lee Conklin | 1968 | Color offset lithograph poster | Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Museum purchase, Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts Endowment Fund, 1972.53.272. © Bill Graham

This poster, advertising a concert at Bill Graham’s Fillmore Auditorium, includes many signature characteristics of the 1960s rock poster, including densely packed, fluid patterning of shapes and fragmented images, and the juxtaposition of vivid complementary colors. Such elements may have been inspired by the light shows accompanying the concerts and create an intense visual effect similar to that experienced by the shows’ attendees.


San Francisco music and dance concerts provided the counterculture with venues and audiences to “turn on” to the mental stimulation of LSD, or to at least approximate the experience through one’s senses. Audiences were exposed to spontaneous, abstract expressionist liquid light “paintings,” as pioneered by artists such as Bill Ham. His light shows were created by filling clock crystals with transparent dyed liquids, which were layered, tilted, and twirled in response to the music filling the hall, and emitted throughout the venue by using multiple overhead projectors. The light shows not only amplified and resembled the visual experiences of an acid trip, but also served to make the events even more participatory by literally absorbing audience members into the show, with the images cast directly upon them.


Light shows could also expose audiences to disparate images from global cultural history, juxtaposed for unanticipated effects. In the hands of Ben Van Meter and Roger Hillyard, who worked together as the North American Ibis Alchemical Company, the light show consisted of slide projections, color wheels, film, and strobes in addition to their liquid light “paintings.” The superimposed flashing images challenged the audience to discover the significance of each apparition within the rapidly changing collage. For almost all of the counterculture artists, appropriation and imitation were not only fair game, they communicated the universality of the human experience.

At the rock concerts, not only was the music and its presentation revolutionary, so too was the dancing. San Francisco concertgoers found countless ways to express their individuality, and nowhere was this originality and creativity more on view than in their dress. Some costumes were designed to throb and glow under psychedelic light and others to flow, emphasizing movement and participation.

Posters

Like a butterfly bombarded by gamma rays, art nouveau is mutating, intermarrying with the eye-jarring color schemes of op and the gaudy commercialism of pop.

Time, 1967

The fact that concert promoters settled on an advertising strategy based on posters and handbills rather than billboards, television spots, or newspaper magazines says something about their intended audience. Posters attracted the attention of pedestrians and neighborhood residents. Tacked on telephone poles and pasted in shop windows, posters were an ideal medium for the message, assuming of course, that they remained posted. These graphic artworks were eagerly sought by aficionados and often disappeared within hours of their posting.

Posters could also be found in local head, music, and poster shops or obtained straight from the source at the venue.

The Print Mint, Haight Street
The Print Mint, Haight Street Photo by Elaine Mayes | 1967 | Collection of the artist. © Elaine Mayes
Byrds, Moby Grape, Andrew Staples, March 31 & April 1, Winterland, April 2, Fillmore Auditorium
Byrds, Moby Grape, Andrew Staples, March 31 & April 1, Winterland, April 2, Fillmore Auditorium Wes Wilson | 1967 | Color offset lithograph poster | Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Gift of Harold and Evelyn Korf, 1996.100.31. © Bill Graham Archives, LLC. All Rights Reserved

The poster artists broke every rule of conventional design, creating distorted forms and unreadable and meandering lettering. Wes Wilson, a self-trained artist, popularized a style of fluid lettering carved out of negative space.

Freaky, funny, and fashionable, these are the signs of our times.

Herbert Gold, 1968

"Butterfly Lady," The Doors, The Sparrow, November 23–25, Avalon Ballroom
"Butterfly Lady," The Doors, The Sparrow, November 23–25, Avalon Ballroom Victor Moscoso | 1967 | Color offset lithograph poster | Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Museum purchase, Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts Endowment Fund, 1974.13.18. Artwork by Victor Moscoso. © 1966, 1984, 1994 Rhino Entertainment Company. Used with permission. All rights reserved. www.familydog.com

One of the poster artists best known for making the most of visually competitive color combinations is Victor Moscoso, who studied at Yale University under Josef Albers, an artist and instructor known for his pioneering explorations of color theory. Moscoso perfected Wes Wilson’s technique of juxtaposing complementary colors to create a popping effect, making it difficult for the eye to focus. Many of his inventive rock posters exhibited wild vibrating effects, and some exploited the ability of certain colors to give the illusion of animation when viewed under flashing colored lights.

Idealism on Haight

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"Couple on Haight Street (Allen Cohen and Monica Collier)" Herb Greene | 1967 (printed 2006) | Gelatin silver print | Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Gift of Rene and Jim Cress, 2016.88. © Herb Greene

The Haight-Ashbury is not where it’s at—it’s in your head and hands. Take it anywhere.

Lew Welch, 1967

Over the course of the 1960s the counterculture youth movement developed a robust community in the neighborhood surrounding Haight Street. This community of mostly well educated, artistic youth from middle-class backgrounds did not just protest against political and social issues, but on a more personal level they challenged the status quo of the mainstream society from which they hailed. Their ambitions were reflected in the economic and intellectual reshaping of the neighborhood. Throughout the 1960s, members of the counterculture movement opened bookstores, providing access to a wide range of texts including eastern spirituality, psychology, and contemporary literature as well as boutiques celebrating fashions that reflected the era.

Woman’s dress Yvonne Porcella | ca. 1970 | Cotton with supplementary-weft pattering, printed cotton, ribbons, appliqué, and reverse- appliqué San Blas Island (Panama) cotton "mola" | Collection of the artist’s family. The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, photography by Randy Dodson

Yvonne Porcella’s clothing was influenced by the influx of world textiles that were being imported to California at the time. In 1961 President Kennedy established the Peace Corps as a call for global democracy, peace, development, and freedom around the world. As a result, a generation of young Americans was traveling the globe and bringing back treasured from its journeys. Porcella actively collected ethnic textiles. In this woman’s dress she has incorporated a cotton mola from the San Blas Island of Panama.

“Persian Nights” dress Jeanne Rose | 1966 | Silk chiffon and printed cotton plain weave | Collection of the artist. The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, photography by Randy Dodson

Jeanne Rose’s “Persian Nights” dress demonstrates the prevalent interest in world art and culture. The front of this dress is decorated with an image of a 15th-century Persian painting. Rose’s fashion career happened by coincidence. While living in Big Sur, she was making clothes for her daughter when Ron McClure, the bassist for the Charles Lloyd Quartet, asked if she would make him a shirt. Her designs garnered the attention of other musicians, and custom orders followed; she became a designer for musicians in such legendary bands as Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and the Holding Company, and the Grateful Dead. As she told Rolling Stone in 1968, “Rock people are the most fun to dress. They have the bread, and they can afford to wear outrageous clothes.”

At a time when most of the clothes on the market were made from polyester, Rose advocated for natural fabrics as well as handcraftsmanship, comfort, and personal expression.

Dress Burray Olson | ca. 1970 | Appliquéd dyed chamois with glass crystal, bone, brass, and shell | Collection of Barbara Moore. The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, photography by Randy Dodson

Like the poster artists, designers of the 1960s incorporated aspects of traditional Native American dress into their clothing. Artist Burray Olson grew up in contact with native culture; as a youth he would seek out the Sioux women who worked for his family, and from them he learned Sioux lazy-stitch beadwork, which he would later use exclusively in his own work. Olson sold his fashions in local shops, and it was not long before musicians in such groups as Quicksilver Messenger Service, Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, and Santana were contacting him for custom designs.

Parents were so freaked out to try to find their son or daughter.

Jay Thelin, Psychedelic Shop, Haight Street, 2017

Section of the Runaway Board at Park Police Station
Section of the Runaway Board at Park Police Station Larry Keenan | 1968 | Gelatin silver print | Courtesy of the Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, BANC PIC 2009.050.001:067. © Wolfgang’s Vault

The Haight attracted as many as 100,000 young people from all over the nation, many more than the neighborhood could safely absorb. This photograph of the runaway board at the Golden Gate Park Police Station during the summer of 1968 demonstrates the number of young people flocking to the area, often without their parents’ permission. The community was overwhelmed. With no support from city hall, neighborhood organizers created their own social services such as:

  • Switchboard, an organization developed to help new arrivals find housing
  • Huckleberry House, which offered run away youth shelter and aid without the threat of a call home
  • The Haight Ashbury Legal Organization, where volunteer lawyers took on the many legal battles encountered by the community
"Calm Center, Waiting at the Haight-Ashbury Free Medical Clinic, 558 Clayton St."
"Calm Center, Waiting at the Haight-Ashbury Free Medical Clinic, 558 Clayton St." Gene Anthony | 1966 | Gelatin silver print | Courtesy of the Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, BANC PIC 2001.196:27-B. © Wolfgang’s Vault

The Haight Ashbury Free Medical Clinic was one of the first of its kind; it opened its doors in the summer of 1967 to serve the ever-increasing health needs of the local population. This photograph of a waiting room at the clinic demonstrates the ever-present nature of posters.  They decorated walls at homes and at businesses, becoming a touchstone for a generation.

Levi's: Practicality and Ideology

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Customized bell-bottoms 1969 | Levi’s denim jeans with appliqués | Collection of Levi Strauss & Co. Archives. The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, photography by Randy Dodson

For the counterculture of the 1960s, Levi’s jeans were durable, cheap, and a canvas on which to express their personal ideologies. San Francisco–based Levi Strauss & Co. originally clothed miners, cowboys, and agricultural workers. By the 1960s their jeans were the uniform of the working class, and for their young devotees, represented the direct rejection of middle-class values, specifically consumerist excess. Attentive to the trends taking place within San Francisco, the company’s president, Walter Haas Jr., created an ethos that was at once socially responsible and highly attuned to marketing their products to the young generation.

"Gree Gree” tunic East West Musical Instruments Company | ca. 1969 | Suede with leather appliqués and brass belt buckle | Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Museum purchase, art trust fund, 2016.42.2A-B. The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, photography by Randy Dodson | Customized bell-bottoms, ca. 1969. Levi’s denim jeans with printed cotton bandana insertions. Collection of Levi Strauss & Co. Archives. The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, photography by Randy Dodson

The development of the flare-leg jean relates directly to the ability of Levi’s to listen and respond to the local San Francisco youth culture. Peggy Caserta, owner of the Mnasidika boutique on Haight-Ashbury, noticed how her clients liked to increase the width of their jean legs to fit over cowboy boots by cutting apart the seams and sewing in extra fabric. She went directly to the Levi’s factory, then located on Valencia Street, and asked if they would create a wider flare-leg jean as a custom order for her shop. The trend took hold and grew, resulting in the cultural phenomenon known as the bell-bottom. 

Customized jeans, created in 1973 for the Levi’s® Denim Art Contest Dug Miles | 1973 | Hand-painted white denim jeans with applied coix seeds, glass beads, leather, and patches | Collection of Levi Strauss & Co. Archives. The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, photography by Randy Dodson

Levi’s were a medium for the counterculture to make personal statements, in the form of handcrafted embellishments. Responding to the craze for decorated denim, in 1973 Levi’s hosted a customized denim art contest and received 2,000 entries. One of the winners was Dug Miles with his submission of these hand-painted white jeans embellished with coix seeds, leather, glass beads, and patches.

I talked them into making bell-bottoms... Somebody had to do it... And Levi Strauss, just a stroke of luck for me, happened to be headquartered in my own hometown.

Peggy Caserta, 2017

Melody Sabatasso (Love, Melody Originals), Pantsuit, 1970
Pantsuit Melody Sabatasso (Love, Melody Originals) | 1970 | Pieced recycled denim, leather and suede fringe, Swarovski rhinestones | Collection of Linda Garth. The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, photography by Randy Dodson

Customizing jeans soon evolved from an individual pursuit into a cottage industry. Designers quickly responded to the demand, most notably Melody Sabatasso, founder of the boutique and label Love, Melody.

Love, Melody staff in the studio, Fairfax, California
Melody Sabatasso (second from left) and Alma Petti (center) with the Love, Melody staff in the studio, Fairfax, California Photo by David Keller | 1973 | Collection of Melody Sabatasso. © David Keller

Sabatasso was on the forefront of transforming secondhand denim into a wide range of patchwork fashions—bikinis, pants, jackets, dresses, skirts, jumpsuits, and halter tops—many embellished with Swarovski crystals. With the help of her mother, herself a fashion designer, Sabatasso within three years built a business that employed 23 designers and processed more than 10,000 pairs of jeans a month.

Politics

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Cry Freedom (detail) SP/4 Vietnam | 1967 | Color offset lithograph poster | Collection of John J. Lyons

When the hippies turn on to the peace movement, then you’ve got a combination that will inherit the earth.

Charles (Brown) Artman, 1967

"Cry Freedom"
Cry Freedom SP/4 Vietnam | 1967 | Color offset lithograph poster | Collection of John J. Lyons

Although San Francisco was considered by many to be a haven from the conservatism that still lingered elsewhere in the country, the social and political climate of America at large weighed heavily on the city’s inhabitants who came together to speak out against the war in Vietnam, social injustice, and other issues of concern.

Black Panthers during drill, De Fremery Park Pakland, Oakland #57 Pirkle Jones | 1968 | Gelatin silver print | Courtesy Special Collections, University Library, University of California Santa Cruz. Pirkle Jones and Ruth-Marion Baruch Photographs

Local contributions to the national civil rights movement gained momentum and notoriety when in October 1966 Huey Newton and Bobby Seale founded the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense in Oakland. The Panthers practiced militant defense of minority communities and fought to establish revolutionary socialism through mass organizing and community-based programs.

“Peace” dress Alvin Duskin by Marsha Fox | 1967 | Acrylic knit | Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Gift of Leslee Budge, 2016.56. The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, photography by Randy Dodson

“What is called the hippie movement involves an alteration of consciousness towards some kind of greater awareness and greater individuality. Hopefully the future will see a spread of that gentleness and consideration poetically and artistically.” – Beat poet Allen Ginsberg

In addition to joining in protests and attending benefit concerts, members of the counterculture could also dress to signal affinity with a particular cause.

“Hands” dress (detail) Birgitta Bjerke (100% Birgitta) | ca. 1967–1968 | Crocheted wool | Collection of the artist. The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, photography by Randy Dodson

The social progress of the 1960s encouraged the burgeoning women’s movement. Birgitta Bjerke’s “Hands” dress expressed its affinity with the women’s cause with its tongue-in-cheek denouncement of outdated sexual mores and roles. For many independent artists, the freedom and experimentation available through the growing fiber arts movement dovetailed with feminism because of the traditional association of women with textiles in the domestic sphere.

“Mandala” boots (detail) Mickey McGowan (Apple Cobbler) | ca. 1975 | Appliquéd Chinese silk complex waeves, silk velvet, and neoprene rubber soles | Collection of Finnlandia. The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, photography by Randy Dodso

The nascent environmental, organic, and health food movements are reflected in these boots by artist Mickey McGowan. When he became a vegan McGowan began looking for an alternative to leather shoes. He experimented with making his own, adopting leatherwork techniques to cloth and canvas. His boots were popular with many local musicians.

Legacy

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Hugging and Dancing, Summer Solstice, Golden Gate Park Elaine Mayes | 1967 | Gelatin silver print | Collection of the artist. © Elaine Mayes

The social developments in San Francisco and the Bay Area in the 1960s as epitomized by the Summer of Love catalyzed a set of ideas that would eventually lead to new norms: the birth of the natural food industry, concern for the environment, sexual liberation, and challenges to the nuclear family. The era’s political and social activism had a significant impact on the course of American history. The counterculture touched every facet of American culture, offering alternatives to the mainstream that still flourish today.

We would all like to be able to live an uncluttered life, a simple life, a good life, and think about moving the whole human race ahead a step.

Jerry Garcia, 1967