Bill Kirsch & Elizabeth Leavy Stroman - An Evening in Conversation (Sausalito)

Thursday, September 14, 2017 - 6:00pm

Each year, thousands upon thousands of eager tourists descend on tiny Sausalito, California, looking for a little fishing and artist-influenced village and finding, instead, thousands of other visitors speaking dozens of languages as they eat ice cream and browse souvenir stores. But the story of Sausalito’s days as a gathering place for artists isn’t a myth, it’s a true history; and a recent book, The Sea Lion and the Sculptor: The Tale of a Vagabond Bohemian Artist, brings a portion of that charming, iconoclastic Sausalito vividly to life. Told often in the words of Al Sybrian, the creator of the famous sea lion sculpture that reigns over the town’s sea front, lapped daily by the tides, this verbal picture of a place where a shaggy guy with grand ideas found a passel of friends is captivating. 

Sybrian fought in Europe in World War II, having enlisted as a 17-year old, and decided, on a lark, author Terence Clarke says, to study art, after which he moved to Sausalito. In the early 1950s, the town tolerated a funky community of artists, most of whom were poor as church mice and lived on anything that floated and didn’t leak overmuch. Sybrian described the town in the 50s as having a “self-regulatory character…that is, no awareness of cops and laws,” and wrote of the “indifference to money (those who had it gave it).”

Clarke tells Sybrian’s story with wit and deference to other storytellers about that era. The book is studded with excellent photos, many from personal archives that Bill Kirsch, a longtime friend of Sybrian’s and the person who spearheaded this book project, collected. There’s a wonderful oil portrait of Sybrian by Walter Kuhlman, a leading light in the town’s – and the Bay Area’s - artistic history himself. 

The story of how the bronze sea lion came to be sitting where it is today, nose up to catch the breezes, is only one tale among many worth reading in The Sea Lion and the Sculptor. This isn’t a slight book only for tourists. This is the kind of book people who love art and those who make it, who relish tales about people who live life their own way, will read with smiles on their faces and at least a whiff of envy for a man who lived exactly as he wished and made some beautiful, lasting art along the way. 

Bill Kirsch is a Sausalito eclectic abstract painter an Architect and one of the founders of the modern Sausalito Art Festival. He designed, coordinated and organized the festival in 1965 and 1966 with artists Al Garvey and Michael Bry. In addition to painting and raising a family Bill has been working full time as an architect since 1958.  He designed over 400 structures that include art galleries, custom and market homes, ranches, restaurants, floating homes, bed & breakfasts and commercial buildings.  Many of his projects have won awards and been published in more than 30 books, magazines and newspapers as well as featured in two films. Bill recently semi retired from architecture and now has more time to devote to his painting.  He is currently living on a houseboat in Sausalito and in addition to living on the water he recently completed a floating studio where he paints.  


In this first full-length biography, Elizabeth Leavy Stroman vividly brings the forgotten life of Jean Varda  back into the light. Jean Varda was a legendary iconoclast in the 20th century art world, first in Europe, then in the United States. Varda was acclaimed for his byzantine-cubist mosaics fashioned from broken glass, mirrors,crockery, and his colorful collages. He was acknowledged as a teacher, a raconteur, and a man of infinite charm and wit. Stroman takes the reader from Varda’s birthplace in the ancient Ottoman Empire to France and England, where he was at the forefront of the modernist movement, consorting with Braque, Picasso and writers like Ezra Pound, Aldous Huxley, and many others. Lavishly illustrated with reproductions of Varda's colorful collages, The Art and Life of Jean Varda tells the story of a legendary artist, and bohemian, whose old ferryboat, the Vallejo, was the center of the mid-twentieth-century Sausalito artists’ scene.

Elizabeth Leavy Stroman is the author of A Place of Innocent Recreations: History of the Sausalito Library. She has been an editor and writer for the Sausalito Historical Society and an occasional contributor to The Marin Scope. A past president of the Sausalito Library Board and a retired attorney, she lives with her husband in Sausalito, California.

100 Bay St.
Sausalito, CA 94965
The Art and Life of Jean Varda Cover Image
ISBN: 9780578157009
Availability: Special Order
Published: Purple Cottage Press - June 1st, 2015