Spinner of tales, visionary catalyst, founder of the Mendocino Art Center, artist Bill Zacha's media include cast bronze sculpture, watercolor and serigraphy, including his masterful "Tokaido Journey" series. His work has been exhibited throughout the Americas, Europe and Asia.
If Bill Zacha's philosophy could be reduced to one element, it would be his belief in the simple direct line, reflected not only in his architectural work and in all his art, but in the way he lived his life. He saw the simple direct line of possibility and right action where others often saw complication; Bill Zacha's great gift was to inspire those others to see what he saw and to act.
Bill also believed in beauty, specifically in the need to surround oneself with beauty and to create beauty in everything one does. Bill sang and, when his singing voice was lost, he played the cello and let the instrument sing for him. Bill's work in theatre, his paintings and serigraphs, his architectural design, his exquisite sculptures in bronze, all his personal artistic endeavors were in tandem with his enormous appreciation of beauty in the art of others, in cultures around the world, in the harmonies of nature and especially the inner beauty of character.
World War II interrupted his studies at University of California, Berkeley and Bill served four years in the United States Navy. After the war, Bill continued his studies at George Washington University, Washington, D.C., where an arm injury prompted a change of major from Architecture to Fine Arts. After graduation, Bill studied at Studio Hinna in Rome.
Bill returned to San Francisco and settled on Mount Tamalpais while completing his graduate degree at San Francisco State, after which Bill developed and taught an arts and crafts program for the United States Army at the Presidio of San Francisco.
It was on a lucky day during his San Francisco years that Bill married the beautiful Jennie Malone, a successful fashion designer who set her career aside to become his life's companion. To Bill's charisma, vision and determination, Jennie brought grace, strength and unwavering support. In 1956 their daughter Lucia was born.
In 1957, on a weekend getaway to the North Coast with friends Harry and Jean Crotty, Bill and Jenny Zacha first saw Mendocino. Bill fell in love with the town and with his vision for it. Soon he had moved his astonished wife Jennie and young Lucia to Mendocino where Bill renovated their large tumbledown white Victorian house, found a job teaching art at Mendocino High School and in 1958 opened Zacha’s Bay Window Gallery.
Not stopping to catch breath, in 1959 Bill founded the Mendocino Art Center. Fifty years after its founding, the Mendocino Art Center has an international reputation for excellence which draws the best teachers of crafts and fine arts, including annual artists-in-residence. Today the Mendocino Art Center serves thousands of students and art lovers every year. It has grown from its original single room to a large complex with beautiful grounds, art galleries, studios for textiles, jewelry, ceramics, painting, drawing, serigraphy and sculpture, apartments for artists and its own performing arts center, the Helen Schoeni Theatre.
Bill had a passion for theatre. His favorite role was the Stage Manager in "Our Town" by Thornton Wilder, which he performed in the Helen Schoeni Theatre's first production, directed by Wes Bradshaw in 1971, reprising the role in Chester Anderson's 1981 production.
An admirer of Frank Lloyd Wright, in Mendocino Bill put his architectural training to good use. He designed the the Bay Window Gallery, the Mendocino Art Center complex, Dorr Bothwell's studio and water tower on the corner of Albion and Kasten Streets, a later house and studio for Dorr by his rose garden behind the Bay Window Gallery, his family home at 484 Main Street and several other private homes.
Industrial design genius Raymond Loewy was another inspiration and Bill paid him daily homage as he commuted to the Art Center in his 1963 Studebaker Avanti, a Loewy design.
For almost two decades Bill was director of the Mendocino Art Center, working for a stipend of ten dollars a year.
It was while browsing the bookstalls of Rome in 1954 that Bill was introduced to the work of the 19th century Japanese artist Ando Hiroshige. Hiroshige's "Tokaido Road" series made a profound impression on Bill. Hiroshige created several series of woodblock prints depicting the Fifty-three Stations of Tokaido, traditional stopping places for travelers along the ancient Tokaido Road which connected the Shogun's castle in Edo with the palace of the Emperor in Kyoto. In 1964 Bill spent three months in Japan during which he fell in love with the Japanese people and their country.
Inspired by Hiroshige's work, between 1964 and 1985 Bill made seventeen visits to Japan, researching and preparing what was to become his masterwork, "Tokaido Journey", a series of fifty-five serigraphs, each presenting a contemporary view of one of the fifty-three stations of the Tokaido Road, adding Nihonbashi Bridge in Tokyo at the beginning and the Sanjobashi Bridge in Kyoto at the end of his journey.
Although Bill had taken many earlier trips with his family, in the Americas and abroad, in 1976, with the Art Center in good hands, Bill was able to take his family to Italy for a year, his first extended time there since his graduate studies in Rome decades before.
In Italy Bill studied sculpture; he explored the streets and alleys carrying his portable easel, often stopping to sketch and paint. Italian architecture was his special delight. Bill visited museums and churches, studied voice and violoncello, learned Italian and, together with Jennie and Lucia, enjoyed the opera, the food and, most of all, the people of Italy.
Bill returned from Italy refreshed and eager to begin a project which would take years to complete, the final printing of the "Tokaido Journey" serigraphs.
In 1985, "Tokaido Journey" debuted to great acclaim at Kabutoya Gallery on the Ginza in Tokyo.
From 1985 until 1998, Bill turned again to sculpture, especially his dynamic bronze figures.
In need of solitude and spiritual renewal, in the early 1990s Bill returned to Italy where he stayed for two years, this time to Scario, a quiet town south of the Amalfi Coast.
In 2008, Zacha's Bay Window Gallery celebrated its 50th anniversary; 2009 is the 50th anniversary of the Mendocino Art Center. The environment Bill Zacha created at the Art Center so many years ago, the seed of a renewed Mendocino, continues to nurture creativity and build community.
When speaking of the miracle of the Mendocino Art Center, Bill always gave all credit to Saint Francis.
- Carol Goodwin Blick (2008)
See the archive of Bill Zacha's artwork.