Bad Puns and Great Watercolors

Larry Wilson serves an artistic Bay Area tour guide.


Visit the artist’s website and hover over these landmarks for more details in this painting, “Spirit of San Francisco.”

Watercolors by Larry Wilson

Larry Wilson shows off his scale model of a network of World War I foxholes, commissioned by the Naval Air Museum in Alameda. Photos hang from scaffolding within the framework, including one of a woman with a broom. “She was a very good employee. Never said a word. In fact … she was a naval mime sweeper,” he says, barely containing his mirth, revealing a mischievous grin beneath his Clark Gable moustache.

He dabbles in such projects, but watercolors dominate his studio, hundreds lining the wall, magnificent land- and cityscapes: the Carquinez Strait and San Francisco’s Japanese Tea Garden, a path through Cypress trees and ships in port. There are so many landmarks that people bring out-of-town guests to his studio, not to buy a painting, but to plan their itinerary.

His “Spirit of San Francisco” is sold as a jigsaw puzzle at the deYoung and Oakland Museum of California gift shops, with the Golden Gate and (old) Bay Bridge, Transamerica Building, Palace of Fine Arts and cable cars, liberties taken with geography to bring the city’s icons together. “The gag is, if you look at all the people, the ones that are in coats are natives, and the ones in shorts are tourists,” he says.

Wilson was born in Hayward and grew up in Alameda at the former Benton Arms hotel, which was owned by his grandfather. He taught art and drafting in East Bay high schools for 32 years. He also built sets for their plays and likens his painting process to set design. “I’ll go on location, and I’ll paint one, for the most part,” he says. “Then I’ll come back here and decide the actors and actresses, and I’ll put all the birds in, because I’ll screw it up on location every time.”

Wilson’s studio is at 1166 Park Ave., near Lincoln Park. Call 510-521-2813 to schedule a visit, then clear your calendar: He is generous with his time and will regale you with stories about Mayor Ralph Appezzato (and his twin), who would visit just to sample his pâté, and his military service in the Azores. His good nature is evident in his work. Not a “brooding painter,” his goal is to leave the viewer feeling better after viewing his watercolors. “I’m not the artist that wants to poke a stick up somebody’s nose,” he says.

More of the artist’s work can be seen at

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