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Tom Law Collection of San Francisco Street Posters
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Collection Overview
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The Tom Law Collection of San Francisco Street Posters features over 1100 posters collected in San Francisco between 1981 and 1986. This street art chronicles the musical and cultural history of the San Francisco Bay Area in the mid-eighties. The majority of fliers are advertisements for local and touring bands, but posters for readings, screenings, plays, art openings, political protests, and even lost pets are also present.
Thomas James Law was born in 1943 and was in his forties when he collected these posters. Originally from St. Paul, Minnesota, Law moved to San Francisco in about 1981. He lived in the Tenderloin in 1983 and relocated to the Upper Haight a year later. On his regular walks around the city, he began to take notice of the distinct and vibrant posters stapled and taped to virtually every public surface. Curiously, Law never went to any of the events advertised, only recognizing a certain aesthetic value in the fliers themselves. "I liked the images. I liked the names. They suggested something different. They were new concepts: lyrical and wild. I never heard their music or saw them perform. I didn't care to: I just wanted their posters." Law began carefully removing the frequently worn and weather-beaten fliers and handbills from telephone poles and kiosks. "Usually it was possible to remove them with a knife, a key, a piece of glass." In this manner, Law gathered posters representing many kinds of activity in San Francisco, unbeholden to one scene or another. "Despite their variety they all have one thing in common: they caught my eye." Law was admittedly more of a classic rock fan. Among his favorites were the Rolling Stones, David Bowie, and Dire Straits. Nevertheless, he became increasingly systematic in gathering fliers by particular bands. "After awhile I looked forward to finding additional posters of certain groups." Some posters also bear evidence of having been reposted; like other collectors, "my room on Haight Street had been covered from floor to ceiling with these posters." In 1986 he moved to Berlin and ceased all collecting activity, outside of a few he gathered in Minneapolis in 1989. Law passed away in 2002. All quotes are taken from his text accompanying a small exhibition in Germany in 1999.
2.5 linear feet (1154 posters and 2 magazines in 3 manuscript boxes, 2 flat boxes and 1 large map folder)
All requests to reproduce, publish, quote from, or otherwise use collection materials must be submitted in writing to the Head of Special Collections and University Archives, Stanford University Libraries, Stanford, California 94305-6064. Consent is given on behalf of Special Collections as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission from the copyright owner. Such permission must be obtained from the copyright owner, heir(s) or assigns. See: http://library.stanford.edu/spc/using-collections/permission-publish. Restrictions also apply to digital representations of the original materials. Use of digital files is restricted to research and educational purposes.
The materials are open for research use.