barbara shawcroft and “legs”

Barbara Shawcroft "Legs" sculpture, BART Embarcadero Station June 12, 2014

Barbara Shawcroft “Legs” sculpture, BART Embarcadero Station June 12, 2014

A long and contentious relationship between Bay Area fiber artist Barbara Shawcroft and the management of the Bay Area Rapid Transit system has apparently come to a conclusion with the recent removal of her massive work titled “Legs” from the Embarcadero BART station.

Ms. Shawcroft is now a professor emeritus in Design at UC Davis, and her fiber sculptures were shown in the Pasadena Art Museum “California Design” shows in the 70’s. The piece “Legs” was installed in the late 70’s at the eastern end of the station (with Stephen De Staebler’s massive ceramic piece “Wall Canyon” at the opposite western end). Having these new cavernous BART stations was, I’m sure, a great opportunity for large public art pieces to be installed and I can only imagine the optimism that went with the installations of these pieces. In the case of “Legs” however, things soured pretty early on.

In the mid-eighties Ms. Shawcroft was already expressing her displeasure at the lack of cleaning and maintenance the piece had received, and with the lack of proper lighting. Apparently even after thirty-five years, the piece had only been cleaned twice. And it looked it:


Not a pretty picture: “Legs” in June 2014, dirty and neglected and in the process of being prepared for removal

It hadn’t started out life like that, however. Ms. Shawcroft won the competition for creating the piece at the BART station and spent a year working with DuPont, fleece mills and her ropemaker to come up with an affordable, non-flammable thread that could be woven into rope for the sculpture. The piece is 50 feet tall and 20 feet wide, and was a dazzling, colorful work when it was first installed in 1978 and lit correctly.

Barbara Shawcroft "Legs" sculpture picture from SF Crafts and Folk Art Museum catalog, 1985

Barbara Shawcroft “Legs” sculpture, 1975-78 (photo from SF Crafts and Folk Art Museum catalog, 1985)

Shawcroft "Legs" drawing - Craft Horizons, Dec 1976

Barbara Shawcroft “Legs” drawing (Craft Horizons, Dec 1976)

The last I heard is that the piece is being returned to Ms. Shawcroft, who will hopefully get a chance to restore it. In the meantime let’s hope future collaborations between public agencies and the public art we get to enjoy go more smoothly!

Barbara Shawcroft photo from the SF Crafts and Folk Art Museum catalog, 1985

Barbara Shawcroft (SF Crafts and Folk Art Museum catalog, 1985)

"Arizona Inner Space", Barbara Shawcroft

Barbara Shawcroft inside her piece “Arizona Inner Space”, circa 1971 (“California Design 11”)

Barbara Shawcroft and fiber sculpture Cal Design 76

Barbara Shawcroft and her fiber sculpture “White Form”, 1976 (“California Design ’76”)


San Francisco Crafts and Folk Art Museum, Barbara Shawcroft – January 9 through March 3, 1985. San Francisco, 1985

Pasadena Art Museum, California Design 11 [1971]: page 70.

Pasadena Art Museum, California Design ’76 [1976]: page 100.


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