San Francisco County
ALBERT M. BENDER.
Albert M. Bender’s interests extend in so many directions and his activities cover so broad a field that the attempt to classify him presents a variety of problems. It is safe to say, however, that few citizens of San Francisco have exercised a broader influence or been identified with a greater variety of constructive enterprises than he. A native of Ireland, Mr. Bender came to San Francisco in his early youth, where he entered the insurance business, a calling which he has followed ever since and in which he has achieved conspicuous success.
However, the creation and management of an exacting business has represented only one phase of his singularly varied career. In addition, he has for years been an outstanding figure in the cultural life of the community, and during this period few enterprises coming within this broad classification have been launched that do not owe much of their success to his wise and discriminating aid. Mr. Bender is frequently referred to as a patron of the arts and, when it is used in its widest sense, the designation is a fitting one. Painting, sculpture, music, fine printing, literature and in fact all forms of artistic expression, are among his especial enthusiasms. Although he has long been a discriminating collector of art objects, his interest has never been merely that of a collector. In all fields of art, it is the producer rather than the product that mainly interests him. Recognition for the artist and the enhancement of the city’s cultural life are the ends to which he has devoted the major part of his time and energies.
His accomplishments in these fields have been little short of remarkable. The California School of Fine Arts owes much to his benefactions, of which perhaps the most far-reaching in its influence has been his creation of an endowment providing substantial annual prizes and scholarships for promising art students. These are known as the Anne Bremer Prizes, so named in memory of his cousin, the celebrated California painter. The magnificent collection of Oriental art, now housed in the Palace of the Legion of Honor, is another monument both to Mr. Bender’s discriminating taste in art matters and to his generosity, for the entire collection is a gift to the city. The impressive new art gallery at Mills College, with its unusually representative collection of the work of outstanding contemporary artists and Oriental art, was also made possible in a large measure by his keen interest and generous support.
In the allied field of fine printing, his influence has been at least equally wide. His desire to share with others his enthusiasm for the masterpieces of book production has led him to establish four collections of fine printing in the bay region; at Stanford University, the University of California, Mills College, and the San Francisco Public Library. In each of these he has placed comprehensive exhibitions of the work of the world’s master printers, thereby arousing an interest in the book beautiful that could be obtained in no other way, and affording students and others the opportunity to examine and study its outstanding examples. At Mills College, of which institution he is a trustee, Mr. Bender has supplemented his typographical exhibition with a collection of books and documents relating to the literature of the west, which in importance and interest can probably not be equalled elsewhere. The latter is particularly rich in manuscripts, containing the original copy of scores of books by outstanding writers of the west. As chairman of the publication committee of The Book Club of California, Mr. Bender has been the moving spirit in the publication by that organization of many works of western literature, and in gaining added recognition for San Francisco’s notable printers.
But these and numerous other organized activities in art matters do not tell all, or indeed the most important part, of his benefactions in these fields. In the words of George West, “the artists of San Francisco would brush all this aside in appraising the man. ... They would think instead of the hundred-and-one obscure acts of personal friendliness, to individuals, and of a continuously understanding and sympathetic interest in all that they did. He is that rare patron, a man who is one of those he helps, modest and generous always in the presence of another’s achievement.”
Transcribed by: Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.
Source: Byington, Lewis Francis, “History of San Francisco 3 Vols”, S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., Chicago, 1931. Vol. 2 Pages 47-49.
© 2007 Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.