The records of San Francisco Focus Gallery measure 11.8 linear feet and date from 1963-1987. The bulk of the collection consists of exhibition files. There are also artists files, sales information, correspondence, and scattered records of the gallery's companion bookshop.
Scope and Contents:
The records of San Francisco's Focus Gallery measure 11.8 linear feet and date from 1963-1987. The bulk of the collection consists of exhibition files. There are also artists files, sales information, correspondence, and scattered records of the gallery's companion bookshop.
Exhibition files comprise the bulk of the collection and generally contain a wide range of materials including correspondence, short biographies, forms requesting artists' background information, flyers, booklets, brochures, checklists, loan agreements, sales records, news releases, and photographs and negatives. Among the many photographers exhibited were Ansel Adams, Berenice Abbott, Bill Brandt, Wynn Bullock, Paul Caponigro, Imogen Cunningham, Judy Dater, Robert Heinecken, Eikoh Hosoe, Annie Leibovitz, Eliot Porter, Aaron Siskind, Jerry Uelsmann, and Brett Weston.
A relatively small amount of general business correspondence includes orders and payments for photographic prints, books, and magazine subscriptions, some personal notes, and requests for information about how to submit for exhibitions and for exhibition schedules. Correspondents include customers, photographers, publishers, law firms, museum, and colleges and universities. Correspondence from the founding year contains Johnston's letters to various venues prominent in art photography, such as George Eastman House. There is also a letter to Ansel Adams requesting prints to sell or for a small opening exhibit.
Additional records include artists' files; sales and inventory records containing print and bookshop inventories, general pricing information and receipts for photographs; and printed materials including flyers and brochures, bookshop catalogs and news releases. There are also scattered administrative records, including gallery history, a file on the Toren Gallery and five owner's notebooks, as well as The Imogen Cunningham Trust files documenting Focus Gallery's interactions with the trust before and after Cunningham's death regarding photographs printed and signed by her; financial and legal files; and guest books.
Documents in the collection that pre-date the founding of the gallery are found in the Toren Gallery file and a few of the exhibition files.
The collection is arranged as 8 series.
Series 1: Administrative Records, 1963-1985 (Box 1; 0.3 linear feet)
Series 2: Correspondence, 1966-1987 (Boxes 1-2; 1 linear foot)
Series 3: Exhibition Files, 1966-1985 (Boxes 2-10; 8.5 linear feet)
Series 4: Artists Files, 1966-1978 (Boxes 10-11; 0 .5 linear feet)
Series 5: Financial and Legal Files, 1966-1987 (Box 11; 0 .2 linear feet)
Series 6: Sales and Inventories, 1966-1987 (Box 11; 0.4 linear feet)
Series 7: Printed Materials, 1966-1987 (Boxes 11-12; 0.3 linear feet)
Series 8: Guest Books, 1966-1970, 1978-1985 (Boxes 12-13; 0.6 linear feet)
Biographical / Historical:
Focus Gallery was founded by Helen Head Johnson (1916-1989) in 1966 on Union Street in San Francisco. The gallery exhibited and sold primarily art photographs and other contemporary art.
Helen Head Johnston believed that photography deserved its own exhibition space. As stated in the gallery's first press release, "in seeking to encourage print collecting it (the gallery) offers not only a show place but also a market place for photographers." While retaining an emphasis on Bay Area photographers, the gallery's exhibitions soon became international in scope, featuring little known and well-established photographers through both solo and group exhibitions. With few exceptions, the gallery's policy was to feature an artist only once. To help keep the gallery going in its early days, Johnston started a bookshop mail-order business. At the time of its closing in August 1985, Focus Gallery was the longest continuously operating photography gallery in the country. The bookshop continued in another location for an additional two years.
The collection is arranged as 8 series
Series 1: Administrative records, 1963-1985, (Box 1 8 folders)
Series 2: Correspondence, 1966-1987, undated (Box 1-2 1 linear foot)
Series 3: Exhibition files, 1966-1985 (Box 2-10 8.5 linear feet)
Series 4: Artists files, 1966-1978, undated (Box 10-11, 9 folders)
Series 5: Financial and Legal files, 1966-1987 (Box 11 6 folders)
Series 6: Sales and Inventories, 1966-1987, undated (Box 11 11 folders)
Series 7: Printed Materials, 1966-1987, undated (Box 11 and Hol 12 7 folders)
Series 8: Guest Books, 1966-1985 (Hol 12-13 6 folders)
Among the holding of the Archives of American Art is an untranscribed interview of Helen Johnston by Louise Katzman or Irene Borger in the collection Interviews of California Photographers 1981 Jun.-Nov.20.
Helen Johnston left her private photography collection to the de Saisset Museum, the Oakland Museum of California, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
The Focus Gallery records were donated by the estate of owner Helen Johnston, care of Gerald O'Conner, executor.
Use of original papers requires an appointment.