Isobar, c. 1970s
Accession Number: PC.46
Artist: Emily Polk (1910-2001)
photo montage, 29.25 x 29.25 inches

Artist Emily Polk donated this artwork to the then San Luis Obispo Art Center’s growing Permanent Collection in 2000 as she was organizing her life’s work before joining her husband at a Southern California retirement community.

Emily Polk was a conservationist, writer, artist and designer. She lived a rich life filled with adventure and travel.

She was born Emily Despain in Aberdeen, Washington, educated at both Oregon University and Oregon State between 1928–31, attended the Rudolph Shaefer School of Art in San Francisco, then founded the DeSpain Design studios in Los Angeles and New York City 1937–1944 and married Benjamin Kauffman Polk in 1946. Ben Polk practiced architecture in San Francisco from 1946–1952, and in Asia from 1952–1966. Emily wrote “India, like other Asian countries, often brings out the reformer in Western professionals.” She and her husband knew India as an inspirational source. Ben Polk’s architectural skills and vision produced masterpieces truly Indian, and truly contemporary. It also influenced his musical compositions. Emily Polk collaborated architecturally in ornament and interior design using Indian motifs, materials and craftsmen.

In 1966 the couple returned to California, settling in Los Osos. Between the years of 1966–1980 Ben Polk was a professor of architecture at Cal Poly and Emily Polk founded the Small Wilderness Area Preservation activist group to preserve wild places, beginning with the Elfin Forest in Los Osos.

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