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William Gordon Huff (1903-1993)

Huff standing next to 
his bas-relief of American lions attacking an extinct bison
Huff standing with his bas-relief depicting two extinct American lions (Felis atrox) attacking a long-horned species of extinct bison (Bison latifrons). Both of these species are from the Pleistocene of California and their fossils are known from the La Brea tar pits of southern California.
William Gordon Huff was not a paleontologist, but an artist. Born in Fresno, California, he studied at the California School of Arts and Crafts in Oakland and the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco, as well as at the New York Art Student's League and the Ecole Grande Chaumiere in Paris. While living in Berkeley, he was engaged to create several sculptures for the Golden Gate International Exposition (GGIE) that was held on Treasure Island in the San Francisco Bay in 1939 and 1940.

The Exposition was held to commemorate both the opening of Treasure Island, built in 1936-1937 to house San Francisco's airport, and the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges, completed just a few years earlier. The airport was to be the home of Pan American's China Clippers, which offered the first regular commercial flights from North America to Asia. The GGIE celebrated the Bay Area's recovery from the 1906 earthquake that destroyed most of San Francisco, and its growing status as a major industrial, trade, and cultural center on the Pacific Rim. Thus, the theme of the Exposition was "Pacific Unity." Many of the nations bordering the Pacific offered exhibits, and the architecture and sculpture were designed to be a modern synthesis of Pacific art styles.

Huff's most visible works at the GGIE were the four statues surrounding the central Tower of the Sun, representing Science, Agriculture, Industry, and Art. In addition to these and other monumental works of sculpture, Huff also created several sculptures, bas-reliefs, and dioramas for UCMP's exhibit at the Exposition. Two examples of his dioramas are pictured below — click on any photo below for an enlarged view.

Huff diorama 
of a Miocene landscape near present-day Mt. Diablo
A Huff diorama depicting a Miocene landscape near what is now Walnut Creek, California.
Huff diorama 
of a Pleistocene landscape, La Brea tar pits
A scene at the famous La Brea tar pits, about 40,000 years ago. Photos of some of the individual animal sculptures in this diorama are shown below.

Huff's sabertoothed cat sculpture
A sabertoothed cat (Smilodon californicus) from the La Brea tar pits.
Huff's sculpture of Procamelus
Procamelus, an extinct North American camel.
Huff's baby mammoth sculpture
Huff's sculpture of a baby mammoth from his La Brea diorama.
One of Huff's dire wolf sculptures
The dire wolf (Canis dirus) is an extinct relative of wolves and dogs.
Huff's sculpture of Hipparion
Hipparion, an extinct Miocene horse.
One of Huff's dire wolf sculptures
Another of Huff's dire wolf sculptures. Can you locate all six of the individual sculptures pictured here in the diorama photos above?

The whereabouts of the sculptures shown on this page is unknown — it is likely that they were destroyed. The only known surviving sculputure of Huff's from the paleontological exhibit is a horned antelope head, currently housed at UCMP.

More of Huff's GGIE sculptures and other examples of his artwork

If you are interested in learning more about the Golden Gate International Exposition and its architecture and art, visit the Museum of the City of San Francisco or consult some of the following resources:

  • Carpenter, P.F., and P. Totah. 1989. The San Francisco Fair: Treasure Island 1939-1940. Scottwall Associates, San Francisco.
  • Neuhaus, E. 1939. The Art of Treasure Island: First-hand Impressions of the Architecture, Sculpture, Landscape Design, Color Effects, Mural Decorations, Illumination, and other Artistic Aspects of the Golden Gate International Exposition of 1939. University of California Press, Berkeley.
  • Schnoebelen, A. 1991. Treasures: Splendid Survivors of the Golden Gate International Exposition. GGIE Research Associates, Berkeley.

Originally created by P. David Polly, 12/3/93. All photos from the UCMP archives.