Sacred Art

Prolific yet unsung, Northern California artist Ray Rice put creative expression at the center of his life
Sacred Art
This mosaic mural, completed in 1957, is part of a group of pieces Rice designed for the Ford Motor Company.

 

For a guy like Ray Rice, who lived to make art, the Arts and Architecture Movement that grew up in the mid-1950s seemed to offer it all. Not riches, perhaps. But who wanted riches?

But, collaborating with architects on schools, restaurants, commercial projects of all sorts, and homes, a working artist could make a living—while preserving his very capacity to create.

“An alliance with architecture,” Rice (1916-2001) wrote in the July 1960 issue of Western Architect, “offers the artist a chance to work as an artist. As he goes through the frustrating succession of bread-and-butter jobs that rob him of his creative stores, the artist comes to regard the opportunity as something sacred.”

Sacred Art
Rice, at age 39 in 1955, at work in his Corte Madera studio on what would soon become a mosaic-covered sculpture of a bird.

What’s more, he wrote, an artist could do what is rarely possible in the United States, “work at a truly monumental scale.”

“And there is the chance,” he added, “to make a personal statement.”

The Arts and Architecture Movement, which developed in both Northern and Southern California with a tip of the hat but no official connection to the Los Angeles magazine of the same name, was an informal group lacking officers, regular meetings, dogma, or dues. Its goal was to foster collaboration between architects and artists.

In the Bay Area, one of its nuclei was an office in San Francisco shared by several firms of architects, landscape architects, and designers, including the architecture firms Campbell & Wong and Marquis & Stoller, landscape architect Lawrence Halprin, and designer Gene Tepper, Rice’s close friend since art school days.

Others who were deeply involved included landscape architects Garrett Eckbo and Bob Royston, and architects Warren Callister and Henrik Bull, Tepper remembered. Artists included sculptor Keith Monroe, Bella Tabak Friedman, Zigmund Sazevich, David Tollerton, Mark Adams, and Stanley Bitters, among others.