Paul Frenzeny’s Chinatown Sketches: An Artist’s Fascination with San Francisco’s Chinese Quarter, 1874-1882

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By Claudine Chalmers. With a Preface by Philip P. Choy.

Click here to view the prospectus.

Artist Paul Frenzeny, a Frenchman of noble descent, strict military training, and encyclopedic knowledge, became one of the leading “special correspondents” in the United States and Europe in the days when woodcuts, rather than photographs, were used to illustrate newspapers. In 1873, Frenzeny undertook a year-long sketching tour of the frontier for Harper’s Weekly, with fellow artist Jules Tavernier. This 100-sketch assignment proved to be an irresistible subject for author Claudine Chalmers, who then followed the Frenchmen’s careers after their journey’s end on the Pacific Coast. As she patiently gathered Frenzeny’s subsequent illustrations in the Weekly, Dr. Chalmers discovered that he had depicted San Francisco’s Chinese culture in all its pageantry and intensity, at a time when most of the white population, within California and across the country, reviled the pioneering Chinese laborers and repressed them in every way possible. 

Paul Frenzeny’s Chinatown Sketches explores in detail the seventeen illustrations of San Francisco’s Chinese quarter which the artist drew between 1874 and 1882, at four different points of his career and four stages in the fortunes of that secretive community. The images have been carefully reproduced with exquisite fidelity, at or near original size.

Philip P. Choy, renowned San Francisco architect, activist, and authority on the history of Chinese America, has written a foreword that reflects on Frenzeny’s times and considers his relevance to the world of today.

Claudine Chalmers, native of Cannes, France, has found the tales of Frenchmen in early California so captivating that she has devoted many years of study to the influence of these adventurers on the Golden State’s cultural heritage. In following their trail from San Francisco to the gold fields and beyond, she has encountered a rich trove of unusual men and their life-experiences, among them remarkable artists such as Paul Frenzeny. Dr. Chalmers’ previous Book Club of California title, Splendide Californie, received the 2001 Commonwealth Club California Book Award Silver Medal, as a notable contribution to publishing.

This book of 60 pages, measuring 10 by 14 1⁄4 inches, contains 19 wood engravings by Paul Frenzeny, including three double-page foldouts. It is bound in decorative boards with a silk brocade spine and letterpress- printed endpapers featuring the artist’s drawing of Chinese acrobats. Four hundred and twenty-five copies were designed and printed by Jonathan Clark at The Artichoke Press in Mountain View, California, Winter 2012. The book was lithographed on Mohawk Superfine paper at Shoreline Printing, Mountain View, and bound by Acme Bookbinding, Charlestown, Massachusetts. The type is set in Scotch Modern, designed by Nick Shinn in 2008 after an 1873 original; the display face is Gold Rush, designed by Michael Hagemann in 2008 after an 1865 Bruce Foundry font.

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