• Deirdre McCrohan

Tiburon's Gertrud Parker founded Museum of Craft & Folk Art


Gertrud Valerie Grossman Parker, an artist and art collector who founded the Museum of Craft and Folk Art in San Francisco, died Jan. 10 of natural causes at her Tiburon home. She was 96.


Born Dec. 27, 1924, in Vienna, Austria, Mrs. Parker was the only child of Otto Grossman and Helen Pick Grossman.


Her maternal grandfather, Karl Pick, was a member of Austria’s elected parliament and the founder of a labor union for office workers. He was instrumental in establishing modern labor laws as well as workers’ housing and hospitals, according to an essay about Mrs. Parker by art scholar Amy Winter. A building and street in Vienna is named for him, said Mrs. Parker’s son Jonathan.


Her father, a film producer and banker, was the director of the Worker’s Bank in Vienna until his arrest and political imprisonment during the fascist uprising of 1934. He was released in 1938, just days before Hitler annexed Austria. From her bedroom window, Mrs. Parker watched the Nazis march into Vienna. The Grossman family fled the country, leaving behind their home, furnishings and the family dog, and caught the last train out of Austria before the borders were closed.


The family traveled through Switzerland and France before sailing for New York and crossing the country to settle in San Francisco’s Forest Hill neighborhood. Mrs. Parker graduated from Washington High School at the age of 16 and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in political science at the University of California at Berkeley in three years.


She and her husband, Harold Parker, an attorney and real estate investor, met in San Francisco and were married in 1956. They moved to Tiburon in 1972.


In 1982, Mrs. Parker founded the San Francisco Craft and Folk Art Museum in a private home in the Richmond District near Golden Gate Park. The museum moved to Fort Mason Center, where it remained for many years. In 2000, the museum relocated to Yerba Buena Lane and changed its name to the Museum of Craft and Folk Art. It closed in 2012 after a 30-year run.


Mrs. Parker was an artist who, for many years, worked in gut skin from cow intestines, an elastic yet fragile and transparent material. She became deeply involved in the Bay Area fiber-arts movement and drew inspiration from the weaving and fiber arts of various cultures. Later in life, Mrs. Parker transitioned to the medium of encaustic painting, but over the years had also worked in sculpting, printmaking and installations.


Writing about her 2015 exhibition at Queens College in New York, scholar Amy Winter wrote, “Parker’s work has always struck a delicate balance between whimsy and gravity, reflecting a depth of feeling and character that sets her apart from other sculptors.”


In his notes for a show of her work at the Sonoma County Museum in 2011, Peter Selz, former curator of painting and sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and founding director of the Berkeley Art Museum, called her “Blue Markings,” a sculpture of dyed skin and colored feathers from a male duck, “an enigmatic, surreal work.”


“Blue Markings” was also one of three American entries accepted into the Toyamura International Sculpture Biennale of 1999.


Over the course of her career, her work was shown in 17 solo exhibitions and more than two dozen group exhibitions in four countries, according to her website.


Her work is included in the collections of the New York Times building, Smithsonian Archives, Japan’s Prefecture of Gunma, the Oakland Museum of California and the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive.


She continued to hike up the backyard hill of her Tiburon home to her art studio until her last days. She was an artistic inspiration to many, as well as a source of sage advice, according to her family.


Harold Parker died in 2013. Mrs. Parker is survived by her daughter, Diana Rogers of San Francisco, and two sons, David Parker of San Francisco and Jonathan Parker of Kentfield; a stepson, Rod Parker of Novato; six grandchildren, Andy Green, Gabrielle Feuersinger, Sebastian Parker, Jacob Rogers, Sam Parker and Olivia Parker; and six great-grandchildren.


A memorial service will be held Jan. 31 by Zoom teleconference. To attend, email info@parkerfilmcompany.com.


Deirdre McCrohan has reported on Tiburon local government and community issues for more than 30 years. Reach her at 415-944-4634.

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