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From Dazzling Gems to Intriguing Explorations in San Francisco

By Patricia Arrigoni Modified: November 5, 2013 at 10:15 am •  Published: November 5, 2013

When I go to the deYoung Museum in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, it's usually to see traveling art exhibits. My latest sojourn there, however, was to check out a collection of dazzling jewels from Italy.

    Called "The Art of Bulgari, La Dolce Vita and Beyond 1950-1990," this exquisite collection of 150 luxury jewelry items is having an exclusive showing in the Bay Area until Feb. 17, 2014. Founded in Rome in 1884, Bulgari claims its name (pronounced "Bull-gar-ee") has "become synonymous with innovation and luxury jewelry design."
    The beginning of my tour led to the earliest classic designs, which reminded me of the crown jewels in the Tower of London. The only items missing were the royal crowns and tiaras, but this exhibit teemed with diamonds, sapphires, emeralds and rubies in the shapes of necklaces, extra-long necklaces called "soutoirs" and gold chokers. There were brooches, bracelets, rings and earrings -- all stunningly beautiful.
    By the 1970s designers had departed in a fresh way from classic jewelry and begun mixing precious gems with semiprecious ones as well as various metals. This was said to have attracted many celebrities to Bulgari as the jewelry became quite colorful,
    Other items included heavy gold purses, rare coins worked into jewelry pieces, a champagne cork, place-card holders, a measuring stick, hammer, cigarette case from 1977 and paperweights. Because I play tennis, I was fascinated by a 1980 silver and gold tennis-ball canister.
    The highlight of the exhibit was the Elizabeth Taylor collection. It seems that at least two of Liz's husbands, Eddie Fisher and Richard Burton, showered her with stunning pieces of Bulgari jewelry, several of which the company bought back at auction after the actress passed away.
    I was especially impressed by Taylor's 23-carat emerald and diamond necklace, a wedding gift from Burton, plus rings, earrings, bracelets and brooches. The exhibit actually devoted an entire room to Taylor's personal collection, which included a ruby heart-shaped necklace she designed and donated to raise money for AIDS prevention and treatment. It all added up to a fascinating tour.
    Another fascinating day took me to the Exploratorium.
    "When Frank Oppenheimer conceived of the Exploratorium in 1969," writes Dennis Bartels, the executive director, in a current newsletter, "he imagined an institution that could look at the world from many different points of view -- through the eyes of educators and scientists, technicians and tinkerers, dreamers, investors and artists in every domain from painters to poets."
    The facilities first opened in the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco, where the staff welcomed schoolchildren from around the Bay Area to come play with their hands-on exhibits and learn a little science at the same time. People who worked on the original facilities traveled around the world to search for ideas.
    In April 2013, a new Exploratorium opened along the San Francisco waterfront in remodeled buildings covering an astonishing nine acres enclosed in old port facilities. The original 450 hands-on exhibits had grown to 600, and it appeared that all were in use.
    To get inside, I crossed the "fog bridge" and then joined a tour led by an enthusiastic guide, Paul Doherty, a former physics professor. He explained that the facilities installed 1.3 megawatts of solar panels on the roof that supply 95 percent of the energy they need. There are 26 miles of floor and wall pipes carrying heating and cooling water produced by heat pumps using what is known as "by water." He told us that the facilities were earthquake proof up to an 8.3 quake and that the floor was designed to be able to move up to 4 feet.
    All of this cost $300 million, with $200 million more needed to repair old pilings. I found it fascinating that the original redwood beams had held up and were used again, whereas the concrete had dissolved. For making all these repairs, the Exploratorium received 66 years of free rent from the city of San Francisco.    
    We took a tour of the East Gallery, which our guide described as exploring living things big and small; Bechtel Central Gallery, where visitors experiment with light, vision and sound; the South Gallery, where kids especially are encouraged to think with their hands and explore their creativity; the Osher West Gallery, which offers a new concept -- experimenting with thoughts, feelings and social behavior; the Outdoor Gallery, where visitors could see how wind, water and tides affect the city and the bay; and finally the upper- level Fisher Bay Observatory Gallery set up to "investigate the interaction of natural and human focus in the landscape."
    Along the way we stopped by various exhibits such as displays of stem cells from mice being converted to beating hearts in mice, human interaction displays and an amazing look at swimming bacteria. We stood in front of a curved mirror that reversed our images (no hands-on here), and in another exhibit we saw our shadows frozen when an automatic flash went off.
    Doherty told us that the Exploratorium creates exhibits and ships them around the world. They also pay teachers $1,000 to come for 100 hours and learn science to teach their students.
    One very popular exhibit was the Tinkering Studio, where kids learn by working with electrical circuits and other hands-on displays such as stop-action videos. Students seriously involved with their projects was beyond a doubt the best thing we saw all day.
    The Art of the Bulgari, La Dolce Vita and Beyond 1950-1990, to Feb. 12, 2014, deYoung Museum, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, San Francisco, Calif.. 94188; call 415-750-3600 or visit Open Tuesday to Sunday, 9:30 a.m. to 5:15 p.m., closed Mondays, and Nov. 28 and Dec. 25. Admission is $21 Tuesday to Friday, $23 Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. Seniors, college students and youths are $18, $17 and $11.
    Exploratorium, Pier 15 San Francisco, California 94111;; open Tuesday and Wednesday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.,          Thursdays 10 5 p.m., plus 6 to 10 pm for adults only; closed Mondays except for select holidays. Admission is $25; seniors and students $19. Three public tours are available -- "Perception, Light and Color," "Living Systems" or "Tinkering." Tours last 45 minutes and cost $25. For advance purchase, call 415-528-4444 and choose option five.
    Patricia Arrigoni is a freelance writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

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