"Spirit of India"
Two large cast stone sculptures flank the sides of Building One on Treasure Island. This has been their permanent home since 1994. They have been known by several names, including "The Tree of Life," but the preferred name is "Spirit of India."
They were part of the group of 20 sculptures which formed the Court of Pacifica at the Golden Gate International Exposition (GGIE), held here on Treasure Island in 1939-1940. The court included a central fountain surrounded by twenty sculptures, an 80-foot plaster goddess named “Pacifica,” and other monumental works of art which embodied the Pacific Unity theme of the GGIE.
The sculptor, Jacques Schnier, also created the small, lozenge-shaped bas reliefs at the top of the far western ends of this building, Building One. Their subjects – young boys holding airplanes – reflect the importance of aviation as a romantic "theme" as well as a practical application in the creation of Treasure Island and the design of Building One. America’s fledgling airline industry heavily promoted the GGIE as a vacation destination.
Juliette James wrote of the large Schnier sculptures: "Notice the elephants' heads in the rear of these figures, for they will identify the country from which they came. These are two Hindus in contemplation of the spiritual. The tree of life they carry symbolizes the casting aside of the flesh in the effort to make the spiritual dominate. The Lotus over the ear of the woman denotes the universal matrix, or mother. Might not the male and female principles of life be suggested by these two figures?" ( The Meaning of the Courts, an interpretive booklet about the art of the GGIE.)
Jacques Schnier was probably the most prolific artist working at the GGIE, with at least nine pieces, large and small, at different GGIE locations. The largest was a 40 foot long plaster relief mural entitled "The Dance of Life." The photo shows Jacques Schnier working on a quarter-scale clay model of this relief.
Schnier also designed one of the fair's most popular logos, used on thousands of brochures, advertisements, and souvenirs.
Schnier emigrated from Romania to the United States with his family in 1903, and grew up in San Francisco. He obtained degrees from Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley. He was a professor of art at the University of California, Berkeley for more than thirty years, retiring in 1966. In his professional life, prior to teaching, Schnier was a civil engineer and a Freudian psychoanalyst. In the course of his professional life, Jacques Schnier was an engineer, an architect, and a psychologist. He was also a professor of art at the University of California, Berkeley for more than thirty years, retiring in 1966.
Over the course of his lifetime he primarily devoted himself to the art of sculpture, and examples of his public art can be found in many Bay Area locations including pieces at the Oakland Museum and a large exterior bas relief at Berkeley High School.
"Spirit of India" was one of four pairs of large sculptures that flanked four sets of staircases that led to the "Fountain of Western Waters" at the center of the Court of Pacifica. These sculptures represented India (Jacques Schnier), North America (Carl George), South America (Sargent Johnson), and the Pacific Islands (Brents Carlton). Located on the fountain itself were four trios of sculpture representing peoples of the Pacific: China (Helen Phillips), Pacific Islands (Adaline Kent), South America (Cecilia Graham) and North America (Ruth Cravath Wakefield).
Together, these sculptures formed a representative community of peoples of the Pacific. The Court of Pacifica, with its gigantic goddess, its fountain, these sculptures and other works of art, created the fair's most convincing and inspiring embodiment of the fair's theme, "Pacific Unity."
In the 1980's Schnier supported efforts to restore the sculptures and the polychrome ceramic Fountain of the Pacific from the GGIE's Pacific House and to create a sculpture garden at the front of Building One.
Jacques Schnier died in 1988, at the age of 89.
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