Coulter Painting Becomes Icon of 1906 Earthquake:
Exhibition to Commemorate Bay Area's Maritime Roots

March 27, 2006

SAN FRANCISCO - Destroyed in a violent earthquake and reborn in its wake, the city of San Francisco commemorates the 1906 earthquake and fire this April with a series of events and tributes.

Primary among them is the opening on April 18 of the art exhibition, "W.A. Coulter: An Artist's Brush with the Sea," at the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park. One of the Coulter paintings to be featured, San Francisco Fire, 1906, has become an unwitting icon of the disaster -- the single most descriptive and colorful image that survives from the earthquake and fire of 1906.

This painting will highlight the opening of the exhibition, which will include paintings from private and public institutions and collections from around the country -- many to be exhibited for the first time.

The exhibition reaches far beyond the fire, showing glorious, of-the-period, paintings of San Francisco's maritime commerce, which was the basis of the city's development and growth in the 19th century.

Coulter was San Francisco's most esteemed marine artist. It is believed he created more than 1,000 oil paintings and 5,000 illustrations (1869 to 1936). This will be the first-ever Coulter retrospective (about 100 works), with the best available examples of each period and style of his work represented in the exhibition -- an elegant tribute to San Francisco's seafaring past.

In addition to his ship portraits, which adorned the offices of San Francisco's most powerful men (and shipping magnates around the world) Coulter's illustrations regularly appeared in the pages of the historic "San Francisco Call," a pre-earthquake daily newspaper.

For years Coulter's pen and brush captured for the newspaper the activities of vessels coming and going during this colorful period of transition from sail to steam on San Francisco Bay. Now, caught in the midst of the city's greatest disaster, Coulter was able to document the tragedy in epic proportions on a 10-foot window shade he pulled from the burning rubble of a building.

For three days and nights the ferryboats carried survivors to safer shores while their captains and crews knew not the fate of their own loved ones. Coulter stood on the ferryboat Berkeley as she plied those waters, and recorded the vivid image which is now known simply as San Francisco Fire, 1906.

Article: A collectible poster and fine arts print of the earthquake painting (see attached) have been produced to recognize the centennial observation. Proceeds from poster sales will go to assist in funding the exhibition, which is free to the public.

The exhibition, "W.A. Coulter: A Master's Brush With The Sea," will open on the centennial of the great earthquake and fire, April 18, 2006. It will be staged in the heart of Coulter's waterfront, the recently opened San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park Visitor Center at 499 Jefferson Street, at the corner of Hyde and Jefferson Streets (across from Hyde Street Pier).

The very articulate Irma Weule, a 106-year old quake survivor (who actually sailed on her honeymoon cruise aboard a ship painted by Coulter) is scheduled to attend the exhibition opening.

The exhibition opens April 18 (10 a.m.-5 p.m.) and runs through October 31, 2006. It is readily accessible by cable car and Muni, the city's bus system. Admission is free. For more information on Coulter, visit

This rare gathering of artwork is being organized by the W.A. Coulter Exhibition Committee of the Paul and Linda Kahn Foundation (San Francisco) in partnership with the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park and its support organizations -- the Friends of the SF Maritime Museum Library and the SF Maritime National Park Association.

Co-sponsoring organizations are the California Historical Society, the San Francisco Museum and Historical Society, and the Society of California Pioneers.

NOTE TO EDITORS: A special media preview of the exhibition will be held on April 13 from 2-4 p.m. at the Visitor Center. To reserve for the preview, for additional information, or to obtain electronic images from the exhibition, contact Joseph Ditler, publicist, at, or 619.435.0767, or Mr. Lynn Cullivan at the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park,, or by calling 415.561.7006

Poster To Commemorate Centennial

The headlines of today read like a movie marquee - "Tidal Wave," "Earthquake," Hurricane," "Landslide." The disasters we are experiencing at the dawn of the 21st century have been tremendous.

A century ago the city of San Francisco was struck by an earthquake the likes of which major American cities had never seen. The great earthquake of 1906 left 3,000 dead, 225,000 homeless, and fires raged out of control for three days.

A commemorative poster of the great earthquake and fire of 1906 has been produced by the Paul and Linda Kahn Foundation. The poster is from the painting, San Francisco Fire, 1906, by W.A. Coulter, and is available as a collectible item in conjunction with the Centennial of the Great Earthquake and Fire of 1906.

The poster measures 18" x 36" and sells for $15. It is available at the 1906 Expo Easter Weekend, and the San Francisco Fire Department Museum Gift Shop, located at 655 Presidio. You may also order the poster at either or For serious collectors a fine arts print is available on archival paper using the Giclee process with archival inks.

For more information contact the Paul & Linda Kahn Foundation at 415.346.0643. You may also write them at 2430 Pacific Avenue, San Francisco CA 94115-1238, or, or visit their website.

The Year 1906

    • The average life expectancy in the U.S. was 47 years.
    • Only 8% of the homes had a telephone.
    • There were only 8,000 cars in the U.S., and only 144 miles of paved roads.
    • The maximum speed limit in most cities was 10 mph.
    • The tallest structure in the world was the Eiffel Tower.
    • The average wage in the U.S. was 22 cents per hour.
    • The average U.S. worker made $200-to-$400 a year.
    • More than 95 % of all births in the U.S. took place at home.
    • Ninety percent of all U.S. doctors had no college education.
    • Sugar cost four cents a pound.
    • Eggs were fourteen cents a dozen.
    • Coffee was fifteen cents a pound.
    • The American flag had 45 stars.
    • The population of Las Vegas, Nevada, was only 30.
    • Two out of every ten U.S. adults could not read or write.
    • Only 6 % of all Americans had graduated from high school.
    • There were about 230 reported murders in the entire U.S.

-- U.S. Statistics for the Year 1906