TIMOTHY HORN – BITTER SUITE – A Sweet Tribute To Alma Spreckels

Now at the de Young Museum until October 12th

By Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Fine Arts Critic
Photo by Lynn Imanaka

Timothy Horn has created several enchanting new works currently on display at the DE YOUNG MUSEUM. The exhibit, TIMOTHY HORN: BITTER SUITE, is a tempting tribute to San Francisco’s own Alma le Normand de Bretteville Spreckels, wife of millionaire sugar baron, Adolph Spreckels, and founder of the CALIFORNIA PALACE OF THE LEGION OF HONOR. The medium is sugar, dazzling amber-colored sugar – strung, hung, coated, and appliquéd. The forms are a magnificent Cinderella-type carriage (“Motherload”), a 9-foot chandelier inspired by the rock crystal chandelier hung in Gallery 9 at the Legion of Honor, and a 5-foot wall hanging – an earring made of blown mirrored glass and nickel plated bronze. The inspiration is a fanciful dream of Alma Spreckels – her life’s journey into endless wealth, her lofty aspirations to higher and brighter positions among The City’s elite, her fiery passion for all manner of French Art, and the opulence and voluptuousness of the Lady herself. The handsome Mrs. Spreckels was a big girl.

A formal portrait of Alma Spreckels by Sir John Lavery shows what she aspired to as Grand Lady.
After the pieces were assembled and everyone left, Tim remained alone for an hour with the exhibit, and with the portrait. “The eyes were following me around the room. I couldn’t help but feeling Alma would appreciate this.”


Martin Chapman, curator of European decorative arts and sculpture at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, beamed as he praised the artist. “We are very pleased to have Timothy Horn’s work here as part of the Collections Connection, which is meant specifically to be an interaction between the Museum’s collection and an artist’s work. What Tim Horn has come up with is truly sensational.”

CHANDELIER, Details – Timothy Horn. Photo Joe McDonald.

“The chandelier is called “Diadem”, also known as “Light Heavyweight” – a very thinly veiled reference to Alma’s voluptuousness. This is the first time Tim has seen it up in its entirety because his study is not high enough. So, this has been as much a revelation to him as it is for us. The structure is made out of steel and foam core, and then he’s added rock candy over the whole surface. A red shellac gives it a slightly darker colored impression.”

I asked Mr. Chapman what happens to the collection after the exhibition closes October 12th. He responded that one of the pieces would be acquired for the Museum’s collection. I pressed a little harder for his personal favorite.

SWEET THING, and detail. 2008.
Nickel plated bronze, blown mirrored glass;
60 x 44 x 9 inches.
Photo by David Stroud.

“I love them all,” said Mr. Chapman. “Probably the ear ring. It’s made of materials that will survive in a museum over a period of time. It’s a type of jewelry that was popular in the early 18th Century, right up to 1750. The designs were particularly in use in Portugal. They set them with semi-precious stones such as citrines. Most of what has survived are of this type – the “girandole”. As a type, it has had quite a long life span. It gets revived in the 19th Century and then again in the 20th Century. Fashion designers rediscover this form and come out with this spectacularly new idea every 25–50 years or so. And now Tim has completely transformed it into something other and which is so extraordinary.”

“What about his other works that are not sugar?” I asked. “Are they more like the earring?”

“A lot of them, yes. He’s done a whole series that are giant pieces of jewelry. He’s also done a series of 18th Century Chippendale wall sconces, normally made out of wood, which he made in rubber. He has a dealer, Todd Hosfelt – the HOSFELT GALLERY – who has shown his work here and at his gallery in New York. Tim has gone back to a tradition from the 18th Century – working sugar for table sculptures. The dessert at the end of the grand dinner was very often separate from the feast or banquet and set up in a separate room. There were sculptures made of sugar, which would be the main feature of the dessert table. So, it’s a very important part of the entertainment in the 18th Century. So, he has taken that and run with it in the most extraordinary way.”

SPUNK (Boy Germs), 2002 & SILK PURSE (Sow’s Ear), 2005. Timothy Horn.

I turned to Tim. “What is the most fun part in all of this for you? Did you see this in your head before you put it together?”

Tim replied, “Most of my work is very processed-oriented. I’ve never made work like this. This was a very direct way of working. The rock candy comes from China. I went to a large Asian store and filled up eight shopping trolleys of rock sugar. So, it was gratifying just watching things grow. You want to have a mental picture, but you never quite know – like the chandelier. I never had it together in my studio. There was no way I could hang something like that. I had not seen it together until yesterday. So, it was kind of stressful anticipating – is this thing going to work?”

“How did it arrive from where it was?”

“I came fifteen-hundred miles from Santa Fe. It was just all packed up in a truck. Initially, I traveled during the night because I wasn’t sure how it would respond during the heat of the day. I checked along the way. The truck wasn’t getting too hot, so I continued to drive during the day. When I got here and we unpacked everything, there was not one single piece of sugar on the floor of the truck. So, the whole thing is very stable and sealed. My work is really about taking objects from an historical realm and re-contextualizing them, using the language of the decorative arts, and putting things into a different context.”

MOTHERLOAD, 2008 Mixed media. Photo, Timothy Horn.

“I wanted to make this on the scale that a child would fit in. I was playing with the metaphor of thinking about Alma as a child and what she aspired to and what fostered in her the ambition that made her become this San Francisco belle. The carriage has a sub-structure which is made out of steel and plywood. The scrolling is scrunched-up foil. Aluminum foil is used by chefs to create decorative table ornaments. I wanted to remain within that tradition of material. It’s little sausages of aluminum foil. I went to Wal-Mart and bought 10, then 20 rolls thinking, “That’s all I’ll need.” Then, another hundred! Once you start something, it just takes over.”

MOTHERLOAD, Driver’s Seat. Photo, Timothy Horn.

For more information: THE DE YOUNG MUSEUM

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Seán Martinfield is a native San Franciscan. He is a Theatre Arts Graduate from San Francisco State University, a professional singer, and well-known private vocal coach to Bay Area actors and singers of all ages and persuasions. His clients have appeared in Broadway National Tours including Wicked, Aïda, Miss Saigon, Rent, Bye Bye Birdie, in theatres and cabarets throughout the Bay Area, and are regularly featured in major City events including Diva Fest, Gay Pride, and Halloween In The Castro. As an Internet consultant in vocal development and audition preparation he has published thousands of responses to those seeking his advice concerning singing techniques, professional and academic auditions, and careers in the Performing Arts. Mr. Martinfield’s Broadway clients have all profited from his vocal methodology, “The Belter’s Method”, which is being prepared for publication. If you want answers about your vocal technique, post him a question on AllExperts.com. If you would like to build up your vocal performance chops and participate in the Bay Area’s rich theatrical scene, e-mail him at: sean.martinfield@comcast.net.

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