Organic Designer Inspires New Art Space

Daniel Liebermann
Daniel Liebermann spent his final years creating a special environment on his property in Inverness, as portrayed in ‘Sunnyside the Film.’ Image from the film

An architect known for his hillside houses with soaring interiors beneath dramatic, umbrella-like beams, Daniel Liebermann had an eclectic career that saw him studying with Frank Lloyd Wright, helping design unique (and un-built) tract homes for Joe Eichler, and pioneering sustainable building by using recycled materials and passive solar design.

Still, says Elizabeth Snowden, “So few people know about Daniel.”

That may change, at least a little bit, thanks to an art space she opened in San Francisco in September. Pallas Bookstore and Gallery, on Geary Boulevard at Van Ness Avenue, is a bit of homage to Liebermann (1930-2015).

In the fall Pallas will screen ‘Sunnyside the Film,’ about Liebermann and his close friend Sandy Jacobs. It is set in the architect’s home in Inverness. This will be part of what Snowden says will be an exhibit on "Liebermann and his world."

Pallas Bookstore and Gallery includes displays of objects from the Liebermann collection as well as drawings by him. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Snowden

Snowden says Liebermann’s work and way of living has inspired her art space in several ways. She cites the architect’s “reliance on found and salvaged material and more natural material” in his work.

She also mentions Liebermann’s “more natural approach to sustainability,” and “his artisanal sensibility.”

“It doesn’t feel like a modern sanitary space,” she says of Liebermann’s interiors, and of her gallery. “I didn’t want a kind of sterile viewer setup. I want it more with a dialog between art and people, creating little nooks and a much more intimate sense.”

For her single-room space, woodworker Shawn McLennon used salvaged timbers from Liebermann’s four-acre property in Inverness, which Liebermann spent decades turning into a magical place, with several of his signature structures complete or under construction, countless of his epoxy artworks, and a series of terraces overlooking Point Reyes National Seashore.

Also within Pallas are items from Liebermann’s extensive collections, which were very much part of his architecture and art.

A home at 200 Panoramic Way in Berkeley shows Daniel Liebermann’s parasol-like roof, dramatic spaces, and wall of windows. Photo by Dave Weinstein/2006

“He was really into collecting found objects, and he had a beautiful sense of how to form them into interior decorating elements,” says Michael Parman, Elizabeth’s brother, a longtime friend of the architect.

“He had mass collections of shells, and rugs, and books, and canes, and fishing equipment, and boats and trailers, and all of his epoxy sculptures, ducks…” Snowden says

“Typewriters,” Parman adds. Snowden goes on: “Swords.”

“100 Olivetti typewriters,” Parman adds.

Liebermann combined natural forms, found objects, and more to create wonderful spaces both indoors and out, brother and sister say.

“Daniel managed to create so many moments of rare beauty throughout the property with these installations that would make you stop and think, wow, independently maybe these are ugly objects, but they have been put together in this gorgeous way,” Parman says.

Liebermann elevation
A 1961 study for a house by Liebermann shows the use of an inverted parasol-like structure for support. It also suggests a house he helped his boss, Aaron Green, design around this time for Eichler. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Snowden

Parman worked with Liebermann as the architect was struggling to complete his plans for Inverness, due to lack of funds.

A few years after the artist died, Parman bought the place. He hopes to follow through on Liebermann’s vision.

Another way Liebermann has inspired Pallas is the openness with which he lived on his land. “Daniel used the space in Inverness freely, letting people come and stay,” Parman says. Snowden hopes Pallas too becomes a community, with resident dancers, performers, and other artists. Snowden herself is an artist, principally in choreography and writing.

“My approach to the gallery is I want it more of an experimental space where art and the practice of art and life can coexist,” she says. “I do shows. I do a lot of performance work also, screenings. And then I’ll have residencies, and workshops, and arts education for kids there.”

Eichler elevation
Aaron Green called this home, planned for Eichler’s San Mateo Highlands but never built, the ‘Arrow.’ It and some companion designs would have been unique in the Eichler canon. Photo courtesy Aaron G. Green Associates

Liebermann, the son of an internationally hydrological engineer, had a “high caliber pedigree,” Parman says, but adopted “a very interesting and unique route in his life.”

He studied with Frank Lloyd Wright and worked for years with Wright’s protégé, Aaron Green, in the Bay Area. There he worked on the Marin Civic Center and helped Green design several unique homes Eichler hoped to build in San Mateo Highlands.

As a landscape architect, Liebermann said in a 2003 interview, he also produced landscapes for about 50 Eichler homeowners.

But Liebermann spent years doing more art than architecture and, Parman says, “was doing a non-consensus form of architecture. I think he was viewed by some as a bit of a kook, and couldn’t get the type of high power commissions that he at times applied for.”

Yet Liebermann left behind a legacy of magnificent homes.

“He just had a brilliant sense of interior spaces. His interiors with those monumental columns and the rafters going across, and that sort of umbrella-like structure,” Parman says. “He always said he was inspired by forms of parasols he saw as a child growing up with his parents in Southeast Asia.

“It creates a very cathedral-like space.”

‘Sunnyside the Film’ will be screened at Pallas in fall '22 along with an exhibit about the architect. For information about the gallery and bookstore, or to learn about visiting the Liebermann site in Inverness, contact Pallas.

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