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Sunday, June 16, 2024

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Arts + CultureArtBeloved artist Laurel Burch honored throughout Haight-Ashbury, including mural...

Beloved artist Laurel Burch honored throughout Haight-Ashbury, including mural recreation

Neighborhood pays homage to woman who got her start hammering out jewelry on the back of frying pan for local street fairs.

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Laurel Burch is at last coming home to Haight-Ashbury. The artist who once hammered out jewelry on the bottom of frying pans to sell at street fairs on the iconic corridor is being brought back by her daughter Aarin Burch, CEO of the Berkeley-based Laurel Burch Studios, and the goodwill of the Haight Ashbury Merchants Association.

A recreation of the prolific artist’s Heart of Womankind painting will soon adorn the exterior wall of 1698 Haight Street, the backdrop for a one-day, community-wide celebration on Sat/8 of her work. Eleven neighborhood shops, plus the Park branch library on Page Street, will feature exhibitions celebrating Laurel’s brilliant, jewel-toned or bold, black-and-white designs rendered in classic cloisonné jewelry, apparel, bags, wallets, clutches, homeware, gifts, prints, and more.

Aarin Burch says her licensing agent saw an article about Haight-Ashbury and reached out to San Francisco Mercantile about the 50th anniversary. “My mother was all about women and about being kind,” she says, in explanation of the choice of Heart of Womankind as the event’s centerpiece. “This is my nod to her spirit and her love for all women in the world.”

Aarin Burch. Photo by Irene Young

The daughter inherited her mother’s artistic DNA, and initially worked as a successful independent video producer and filmmaker. In 2012, she took over the leadership of the Laurel Burch e-commerce business. Operating out of an Oakland garage, she shipped orders throughout North American while her brother, Juaquim Burch, dealt with international business. In March 2020, Aarin launched the bricks-and-mortar Laurel Burch Studios—just days before the pandemic forced nearly all commercial enterprises to become online-only operations.

The brick-and-mortar showplace reopened to the public in 2021. The company’s bi-annual warehouse sales attract thousands of local fans and collectors from around the world. When Aarin travels, she always carries one of her mother’s items and is often stopped by people who own—and cherish, and want to tell her about—a Laurel Burch bag, purse, umbrella, scarf, or photos of a treasured print displayed in their homes.

‘Heart of Womankind’ mural, interpreted by Natalie Gabriel, takes shape at 1698 Haight Street.

“Even so, business is challenging now,” she says. “It’s slow, which gives me time to think about her legacy and my purpose with her body of work. Preserving and sharing it presents a multitude of ways to do that. Museums are of interest. There’s books and the documentary I’m working on and giving talks about her. I did a Zoom with third graders and spoke with them about her work. They showed me cats they had drawn. I just think my mom was pretty cool. I pulled out her clothes from the ’80s that are stored in our warehouse. She’d get a little paint on her shoes and then just go ahead and paint them.”

Laurel Burch died at age 61 in 2007. “She was a white woman whose mission was to support, inspire, and encourage all women,” says Aarin. “To me, her daughter and a person of color who identifies as queer, I’m looking forward to a future where I continue to bring more women of color into leadership roles. That will be a manifestation of my mother’s work and I’m excited about what that will look like.”

When it comes to the recreation of new Heart of Womankind mural, Aarin credits interest from SF Mercantile owner Robert Emmons. Long ago, he worked at Macy’s and knew of Laurel’s work, but didn’t know she got her start in Haight Ashbury. “She’d lay out a blanket [at local street fairs] and this is where it all began. It started with the earrings and became the elongated cats, dogs, horses—and then flowers, birds, graphic designs, humans—that are instantly recognizable and adored. My mother became so much more than just cats and horses. She was a woman in leadership. Independent, hard-working, creative, and successful.”

‘Heart of Womankind’ by Laurel Burch

Aarin has built on that legacy with the introduction of unique, custom Laurel Burch items that include the brand’s first-ever calendar; expansions in paper, homeware goods, and apparel; and reimagined prints that offer new takes on classic designs to striking effect.

Muralist Natalie Gabriel’s rendition of Heart of Womenkind promises to provide similar joy to the artist’s fans. “[Gabriel has] been great, and told me she’s invoking my mom’s spirit when she’s ‘in her paint strokes’ while working on the mural,” says Aarin. “Robert is funding the mural through the mercantile because he wants to vitalize the area again after Covid. My brother said she’s coming back to her roots. I realized it even more so when I was looking at what I created for her retrospective collection. I named the jewelry after streets in the Haight Ashbury. There’s the Haight Dangle Earrings, Page Necklace, Cole Necklace, Ashbury Earrings, and more. To bring all of this back today to the same area where she began is incredible.”

‘HEART OF WOMANKIND’ MURAL UNVEILING Sat/8, noon-5pm. 1698 Haight, SF. More info here.

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