The Feng Shui of a Displaced Artwork by a Displaced Artist Serendipitously Finding Its Right Home

Silver Dollar Eucalyptus by Flora Davis


The search for the perfect piece of art to cover the most visible wall space in my home – across from the dining table, at the end nearest to the kitchen as you come into our living room — ended serendipitously, as I knew it would, after my husband and I had been living in our new place and searching for the perfect piece for that spot for nearly five years. The builder who designed our unit decided for some unfathomable reason to put the circuit breaker box smack dab in a spot that can only be described as prime real estate for a china cabinet, off-center in the lower left of the dominant wall in the main living area. Supposedly, a building code requires circuit breaker boxes must be located anywhere but in a closet, and while I am certain the natural placement for an almost-certain-to-be-needed-only-once-in-20-years compartment of electrical switches would have been the hallway, the builder had other ideas and presented a decorating challenge.

I’d have preferred a buffet table with a hutch to store and display heirloom serving pieces right there, but the possibility of needing to open the circuit breaker box in a distant future prevents placement of anything like a hutch, since heavy furniture blocking the box would be difficult to move.

The right piece of art, which we could easily remove from its hooks, was what we needed to conceal what I consider to be a design blemish in our beautiful home.

Adding to the challenge, my husband and I were bent on finding something that would complement and tie together the other elements in the room. The right color palette and theme we had cultivated of California flora, ferns and redwoods, desert wildflowers and bamboo leaves and the landscape on the opposite wall of rocks and plants along a little stream in Joshua tree country down south.

The silver-dollar eucalyptus branch painting that arrived in my home last Sunday was all that my husband and I had wanted. The autumnal greens, gold and reds coordinate with the recliner, lamp, rug, and the seat cushions around the dining table. The expressionist study perfectly fits the room‘s leaf motif.

My husband had known the artist’s husband for years through work in the cab industry; well enough that I’d met the man on more than one occasion. Still, it came as a surprise one day last week when this friend asked if we’d be interested in acquiring an original artwork painted by his wife, Flora.

Charles and I still didn’t realize this was the piece we’d searched for these past few years, not even when Flora informed us that the acrylic on canvass, which we’d seen only a digital image of via email, measured 3½ by 5 feet. We were thinking it would go on the center of that wall. We hadn’t envisioned placing it off-center so that it would cover the intrusively placed circuit breaker box with its rectangular metal face.

Moments after arriving in our living room, Flora sized up the placement of the eyesore and offered her feng shui wisdom. We couldn’t believe we hadn’t thought of it ourselves. Here was the very solution we had sought. The recliner, lamp, rug, dining table with its leafy green tablecloth and the chairs with their arboreal seat cushions, the other framed pictures already hanging in the room, all seemed to whisper in agreement.

It isn’t every day that an artist comes over to deliver an original painting they are giving away, so I’d gone to Trader Joe’s the previous Friday and selected a festive spread of cheeses and crackers. I sliced an apple and a pear to place around the cheeses and scattered mixed nuts all over the tray. To boost the color palette and add crisp to the gooey softness of the runny cheeses, I put baby carrots, radishes, and sliced green and red bell peppers on a separate platter with homemade sour cream-Greek yogurt-onion dip served in a white French onion soup bowl. I set out four of the stunning red dessert plates with pretty pink and blue flowers that I’d inherited from my grandmother. We drank Pellegrino.

We sat down after hanging it to admire Flora’s work and its effect upon the room, and of course Charles and I asked how such a lovely painting came to be given to us.

The silver-dollar eucalyptus branch was one of her earlier works which had never sold, and which she had kept in inventory for more than 20 years.

She could no longer keep it in inventory.

She and 42 other longtime artists were being priced out of the studio where they had created for decades. The deadline was November 30.

Flora, a 26-year tenant of the SoMa Artists Studios, has found a new studio in the Mission District that she can afford, but it is a smaller space, and to move into it, she was giving up some of her inventory.

Of the 43 artists who had cohabitated and created in the SoMa Artists Studio, only 6 have found new studios.

Rising rents are hurting many people in San Francisco these days. It isn’t only people affected by the rental housing market’s stratospheric rents; businesses and nonprofits also are being priced out. Many more have been evicted, or are facing an eviction. Some have been evicted multiple times. Like a scourge, creative types of all varieties are being driven out of the City by the affordability crisis.

Everybody agrees it’s a crisis. Displacement has become a word you hear every day in San Francisco.

Flora told us while we tasted the cheeses that she has become active in the movement to preserve the local artists’ community through the Cultural Action Network. CAN is a group of artists and activists taking actions to protect artists and preserve diverse cultural organizations and spaces in San Francisco through public awareness campaigns and actions, community organizing, and legislative solution.

It was serendipity, meeting Flora under such circumstances. Earlier that month, San Francisco’s municipal election saw several measures placed on the ballot by citizens fighting back against the rising rents and corporate takeover of our government at every level, but nowhere more greedily than the local level.

Our guests, the artist and her cab-driving husband, were thankful to hear that our household too had campaigned for the same values – preserving homes and businesses for working families and creative types — in the months leading to the election. Our candidate had won, unseating an opponent who’d been appointed by the Mayor early in the year, and against the odds of big-money interests who invested heavily in an aggressive character assassination campaign against a progressive running entirely on the Affordable City platform.

On the other hand, the two most hard-fought ballot measures – Prop F and Prop I — had lost. Astronomical sums had been lobbed against them by corporate opponents. Voter turnout had been low.

But much good has come out of the recent election’s campaigns, and for that matter, there is good coming out of the pain of the widespread evictions and displacements. Across the City, communities have been united. A progressive movement has been reignited. We see only the start of the next round before us.

In the fading light of a November Sunday, after a walk around the nearby creek that was followed by pumpkin pie topped by freshly whipped cream and a piping hot pot of spicy chai tea, Flora looked at her silver-dollar eucalyptus branch hanging on our living room wall before turning to go, and said she was pleased with how this had turned out. There was something very feng shui in how her early expressionist artwork, which she’d kept in inventory in her studio for more than 20 years, had finally found its right home.

For more on the story, see

For more on Cultural Action Network, visit


Published by

Bettina Cohen

I've watched the little corner of San Francisco where I live get "built out" and the neighborhood grow by leaps and bounds to its current near-completion status. I am the author of hundreds of published articles, two nonfiction book chapters published as part of an authoritative guide series, and an unpublished novel. I recently resumed freelance writing as a community reporter for The Potrero View.

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