USF's Museum Blog

Blurring the lines between art and life

by Rheilly Llanos

The city of San Francisco is well known for its vibrant arts community. One would be surprised however, to find out that San Francisco does not have a single artist’s house or studio open for public visitation. That will change next month. Nestled on the corner of 20th Street and Capp Street in San Francisco’s Mission district is 500 Capp Street, the home, a work of art unto itself, of artist David Ireland (1930-2009).  It is scheduled to open to the public next month as City’s the first accessible historic artist’s house.

500 Capp Street

500 Capp Street

David Ireland was born in Bellingham, Washington in 1930. He attended California College of the Arts and Crafts and graduated with a degree in Printmaking and Industrial Arts in 1953. Ireland then joined the Army where he trained soldiers on how to use gas masks before being discharged in 1955.

David Ireland

David Ireland

Ireland was an avid traveler. His journeys through Europe, Asia and Africa had a great impact on him. In 1965, Ireland returned to the Bay Area and started his company, Hunter Africa, which organized safaris through Kenya and Tanzania. He opened a shop in the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco with the same name, which sold imported artifacts such as animal skins and skulls. It was not until later in his life when Ireland decided to become a full-time artist. He returned to school on the GI Bill and received his Master of Fine Arts from the San Francisco Art Institute.

500CappIreland’s home at 500 Capp Street, which he purchased in 1975, has come to be known as his masterpiece in the art world locally and nationally. The house is considered an environmental artwork. Upon moving in, Ireland commenced his “maintenance action.” He removed window moldings and stripped the walls of ninety years’ worth of wallpaper to reveal a visual history of the house. Ireland then sealed that visual history by adding a high-gloss polyurethane varnish to the walls and ceilings. Over the next thirty years the house continued to transform with Ireland’s practice of blurring the lines between art and life. Health issues required Ireland to move out of the house in 2004. The fate of the house was unknown until his family decided to sell it and Carlie Wilmans purchased the building and established the 500 Capp Street Foundation to preserve Ireland’s legacy.

The mission of the 500 Capp Street Foundation is to carry, “on the legacy of late conceptual artist David Ireland by affording a broad audience the opportunity to experience his home and masterpiece as well as his extensive body of work.”

Since August 2014, the house at 500 Capp Street has been under intense construction and restoration. The Foundation has been working with ARG Conservation Services, who are responsible for the restoration of the murals in the Coit Tower, and Jensen Architects, who constructed SFMoMA’s Rooftop Garden.

During my internship in summer 2015 at the 500 Capp Street Foundation I worked on multiple projects. I assisted in organizing and cataloguing the photo collection that will eventually be housed in the archive room. The collection consists of printed photos, mounted photo slides, negatives and contact sheets. These personal photos are documentation of his time as an artist. In the collection you can find photos of Ireland performing the “maintenance action” on the house at 500 Capp Street, photos of his studio and artwork, photos of his travels among many other things.

Capp2I also contributed to 500 Capp Street blog. After spending time with the photos and researching who David Ireland was, I had vast content to share with 500 Capp Street’s online community. Most of the posts were about his art practice and artworks, but there were also some posts that paid homage to his inspirations and important people in his life. You can visit the blog and read some of my posts at

The Foundation is truly embodying the life of Ireland’s art and work by carrying on his legacy of collaboration and education through the opening of this house. When 500 Capp Street opens to the public there will be guided tours led by Bay Area artists. Throughout the house exhibitions of artwork by Ireland and other artists will rotate. An archive room was added in the basement. There, scholars will be able to conduct research on David Ireland, his home and his entire body of work. Eventually, the Foundation will launch an artist-in-residency where artists will have access to the house and the opportunity to interact with the house and work on their craft.

It was very exciting to see everything coming together in preparation for the opening of the house and we are very excited to open to the public in January. We can’t wait to share our love for David Ireland and his house with San Francisco and the world!

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