Deborah Aschheim’s “The Zeitgeist” and The Summer of Love

“If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him. We must never forget that art is not a form of propaganda; it is a form of truth. And as Mr. MacLeish once remarked of poets, there is nothing worse for our trade than to be in style. In free society art is not a weapon and it does not belong to the spheres of polemic and ideology. Artists are not engineers of the soul. It may be different elsewhere. But democratic society–in it, the highest duty of the writer, the composer, the artist is to remain true to himself and to let the chips fall where they may. In serving his vision of the truth, the artist best serves his nation. And the nation which disdains the mission of art invites the fate of Robert Frost’s hired man, the fate of having ‘nothing to look backward to with pride, and nothing to look forward to with hope.'” – President John F. Kennedy, from his remarks at Amherst College, October 26, 1963

Los Angeles-based artist Deborah Aschheim’s work was first introduced to Las Vegas at the Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art where she exhibited her suite of drawings The Kennedy Obsession, during her tenure as a visiting artist at UNLV. That series, which is ongoing, considers the possibility of collective memory, “images of people responding to the presence and loss of the Kennedys. . .”  She has done extensive research on the Kennedys and recently shared the Amherst speech with me during our post-election correspondence about our individual activism, the President’s devastating proposed budget cuts to the National Endowment for the Arts, and the role of the artist in society. 

Aschheim’s current work, The Zeitgeist, another series of highly detailed pen and ink drawings, this time documenting the people and events that defined 1967, is part of the Art on Market Street Poster Seriescommissioned by the San Francisco Arts Commission in conjunction with the regional 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love. The series features three artists who reexamine this historic event through a contemporary lens.

“’The 60s’ struggles for racial, gender, economic equality, freedom and peace promised a better future, but in 2017 we have never been more aware of how fragile these social gains can be and how deeply we still struggle with division, inequality, injustice. I hope that entrepreneurs and billionaires have not replaced revolutionaries and poets as our heroes,’ laments Aschheim. ‘I want to re-animate an authentic vision of 1967 that still has the power to inspire us to disrupt society in creative ways.’”

Thank you to Deborah Aschheim and the San Francisco Arts Commission for sharing your research, images and text. More information about the SFAC Art on Market Street Poster Series programming below. 


Deborah Aschheim, Human Be-In, January 14, 1967 (After Eric Thiermann) 2017. The Human Be-In at the Polo Fields in Golden Gate Park is widely regarded as the prelude to the Summer of Love. Billed as a “Gathering of the Tribes,” the free event brought together as many as 30,000 people from diverse communities including musicians, poets, activists, artists, intellectuals, counterculture luminaries and the “outlaw” motorcycle gangs. Image courtesy the artist and the San Francisco Arts Commission’s Art on Market Street Program.


Deborah Aschheim, Digger, 2017. The Diggers were a radical community action group of activists and improvisational actors based in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco. They fed people for free in Golden Gate Park and other sites during the Summer of Love, created free stores where everything was free and presented street theater, grassroots publications and free concerts. The deeper motivations for their actions were to create a society that rejected capitalism and money in favor of freedom and more transcendent values. Image courtesy the artist and the San Francisco Arts Commission’s Art on Market Street Program.


Deborah Aschheim, Vanguard Street Sweep, 2017. Gay and transgender youth in San Francisco’s Tenderloin formed Vanguard to protest discrimination and to support an emerging LGBT community. Vanguard’s 1966 cleanup of Market Street made tongue-in-cheek reference to “street sweeps” of homeless youth by police. “People were beaten down by their environment, by being called names, by being told they were worthless, by families that threw them out. I started Vanguard as an opportunity where people could stand their ground.”- Vanguard Co-Founder Adrian Ravarour. Image courtesy the artist and the San Francisco Arts Commission’s Art on Market Street Program.


Deborah Aschheim, Mother and Child, Free Huey Rally, De Fremery Park, Oakland (after Ruth Marion-Baruch) 2017. The Black Panther Party formed in Oakland in 1966 demanding an end to oppression of African Americans, and calling for housing, education, jobs, and justice. “The party is known mostly for its confrontational stances; and that’s a good thing – to be confrontational against evil and violence. The kinds of problems that the black community suffers: unequal levels of imprisonment, unequal levels of access to resources, poor health. The Black Panther Party tried to model for the community some of the possible solutions that were not capitalist-oriented.” Kathleen Cleaver, first Communications Secretary for the Black Panther Party. Image courtesy the artist and the San Francisco Arts Commission’s Art on Market Street Program.


Deborah Aschheim, Lawrence Ferlinghetti at City Lights (after Harry Redl) 2017. City Lights Book publisher Allen Ginsberg’s poem “Howl,” which revolutionized American poetry and lead to publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s 1956 arrest on obscenity charges. The “Howl” trial and its landmark verdict was a triumph for freedom of speech and brought San Francisco to national prominence as a hub of avant-garde culture. “Poetry can change the world, just like any art can change the world by changing consciousness.” – Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Image courtesy the artist and the San Francisco Arts Commission’s Art on Market Street Program.


Deborah Aschheim, San Francisco Peace March, April 15, 1967 (after Michelle Vignes) 2017. The Spring Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam was a coalition of peace and Civil Rights activist groups who joined forces in 1967 to organize simultaneous large-scale anti-war protests in New York and San Francisco. More than 70,000 people marched from Market Street to Golden Gate Park to protest U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Image courtesy the artist and the San Francisco Arts Commission’s Art on Market Street Program.


The Zeitgeist is viewable in the Muni bus kiosks along Market Street between the Embarcadero and Eighth Street through June 20, a project of The San Francisco Arts Commission’s Art on Market Street Program, funded by the San Francisco Arts Commission and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. Subsequent series will feature new work by Sarah Hotchkiss who will examine the “diverse Bay Area political, cultural and social scenes of 1967” through local mainstream and underground media and by Kate Haug, who has designed Summer of Love trading cards featuring an array of iconic personalities. For more information about the San Francisco Arts Commission and Art on Market Street Poster Series visit this link. For more on the Summer of Love anniversary celebration visit this link

What’s Love Got to Do With It? Panel Discussion on July 15, 6:30-8PM. The San Francisco Arts Commission and the California Historical Society present a panel discussion featuring the three artists commissioned for the “Summer of Love” themed Art on Market Street Kiosk Poster Series. Deborah Aschheim, Kate Haug and Sarah Hotchkiss will each present their unique, contemporary take on the counter culture event that inspired some of the era’s most memorable music, art, fashion and literature. The event will include a moderated discussion with the audience. Attendees will receive free zines with contributions by the artists.

Deborah Aschheim makes installations, sculptures and drawings about memory and place. She has had solo and group exhibitions across the United States and internationally, including the Barrick Museum at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas; Oficina de Proyectos Culturales in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico; Suyama Space in Seattle, WA; San Diego State University Art Gallery, CA; the Pasadena, CA, Armory and the Pasadena Museum of California Art; the Mattress Factory Museum in Pittsburgh, PA; Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles, CA; Laguna Art Museum in Laguna Beach, CA. For more information about her work visit her website here.

For more information about Aschheim’s current ongoing series of protest drawings, started in November 2016, bearing “some small witness  to history being made right now in the resistance to the Presidency of Donald Trump and the policies, statements and actions of his administration,” visit her new project,

Link to the transcript of John F. Kennedy’s Remarks at Amherst College here



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