February 2024

Birthdays Are 
Very Favorable Too

Gertrude Stein at 150
with gifts, Barbies and AI

Hans Gallas

On the opening page of Gertrude Stein’s erstwhile children’s book To Do: A Book of Alphabets and Birthdays, a romp through the alphabet from Annie to Zero, she states her opinion of birthdays: “…birthdays are very favorable too, otherwise who are you.”  No question mark in her text, but good question on the 150th anniversary of her birth this February. When she comes to “G” in the book,  it is “George Jelly Gus and Gertrude Nobody is so rude Not to remember Gertrude.” (punctuation is as written.)

And we won’t.

One of the reasons collectors collect, particularly those whose collections involve items relating to famous writers, is to try to get closer to them and to attempt to gain a better understanding of who they are. Having letters that they have touched or original photographs for which they posed or an item that they wore, or artworks created by artists who have been inspired by them, provides an intimacy that goes beyond simply reading or studying their works.

Then in my case there are all of the fellow GertrudeandAlice (intentionally one word) enthusiasts I’ve gotten to know in the last 30+ years, including some who had met them. I am reluctant to list them for fear of leaving out any who have been a part of my charmed circle (see Mr. Mellow who follows), but they have provided friendship, knowledge and support.

As a long-time collector of everything Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, my sesquicentennial tribute to Gertrude presents a few gifts from my collection, as well as a few surprises. This is, however, more than a tribute to her. It is also a thank you from me for the significant role she and Alice have played in my life. So in reality the gifts given on this birthday are gifts from them to me. Their books, letters and photographs and fellow fans  have become my treasures, as have the artworks created by artists around the world for whom GerturdeandAlice have served as muses.

The Gifts

This 1975 paperback edition of James R. Mellow’s collective biography Charmed Circle: Gertrude Stein and Company was responsible for infecting me with the GertrudeandAlice collecting bug. After reading it a number of years after its publication, I found a first American edition of Stein’s Wars I Have Seen, in an antiquarian bookstore, Nicholas Potter Books in Santa Fe. Mellow’s conversational and what some might call gossipy style brought Gertrude and her coterie to life and began my quest.

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Among the earliest and rarest of Gertrude’s  works is Portrait of Mabel Dodge at the Villa Curonia written following GertrudeandAlice’s stay at the villa. Mabel was so enthralled by the piece that she immediately had 300 copies printed in Florence in 1912, which were primarily distributed to friends. This is one of Gertrude’s first written portraits, recounting their stay at the villa. In it she includes remembering one amorous evening when they heard sounds coming from Dodge’s adjoining bedroom which she was sharing with a lover!  “So much breathing has not the same place where there is that much beginning. So much breathing has not the same place when the ending is lessening. So much breathing …”

The Florentine wallpaper cover and simple, jam jar title label give it a distinctive homemade feeling. An anecdote circulated that GertrudeandAlice helped Mabel affix the labels to the front covers making it a true vanity press effort. The work is now included in various Stein anthologies.

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Letters and postcards are among the most personal items that any collector seeks out. I have been fortunate enough to have acquired many of them. Those written on stationery with Gertrude’s iconic rose quote are the rarest as are ones that include envelopes. My favorite is a short-handwritten note written by Alice on April 9th, 1930 on behalf of Gertrude to journalist Paul L. Wakefield. It ends with Alice’s spidery signature, this time as “A.B. Toklas.” The very business-like short letter reads:

 “Dear Sir.

Miss Gertrude Stein desires me to say that she will be pleased to receive you next Friday morning the eleventh at eleven o’clock.

                                                                                                Very Sincerely
                                                                                                A.B. Toklas”

Both the note paper and envelope feature the 27 Rue de Fleurus address. The envelope is sealed with red sealing wax stamped with a rose seal. The fact that the wax rose seal has stayed intact is remarkable and that it was used on a business note is also intriguing.

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One of the things that has impressed me during my GertrudeandAlice years is that they continue to be unwavering influencers year after
year. Gertrude’s “there, there” phrase is used almost daily in the media as are references to Alice’s “marijuana brownies” (sic).

My goal of finding artworks that have been inspired by them has been an ongoing adventure. San Francisco artist John Keating has included GertrudeandAlice in many of his works as he records the colorful history and daily life of the City. For the last 20+ years he has been sending me pieces in the mail, which have become a significant part of the collection. His most recent is a drawing of the two of them with slight touches of color. Many of his portraits are in vibrant colors which skillfully capture their individual styles.


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Australian artist Gisela Züchner-Mogall, whose constantly evolving work first caught my attention with her “Works Based on Text Series”. She handwrote The Making of Americans on ninety-one, 16X24 inch sheets of paper with a technical pen and black ink.  There are  three over-lapping layers of text, each positioned slightly differently. This created a remarkably rhythmic, textured piece capturing the 921 page novel in a totally new way. As Gisela has said:

“Stein’s sentence structures and at times unusual punctuation allows language to find its own patterns making it almost impossible to "read" the text in a traditional, linear manner. These complicated patterns of repetition become a written art. I wanted to re-tell The Making of Americans by transforming written art in literature to written art in the visual arts. The result is a literal, complicated configuration of repetition.” (see the corner detail below.)

For this birthday celebration she created a piece repeating the phrase “Birthdays Are Very Favorable” which creates a similar feeling on a smaller scale. Words again have become visual just as Gertrude had wanted.



The last gift is by Michigan artist Jason Vonfosson who has embroidered Gertrude’s distinctive, illegible signature on an embroidery hoop. In the note that accompanied the piece he noted “Gertie is one of my favorite autographs to stitch (and one of my favorite poets.” I can only imagine Alice, hoop in hand, stitching away with Gertrude sitting nearby writing in her notebook.

The Barbies

Long before the current Barbiemania, when Mattel began creating Barbies representing pop culture and historic dolls, I had felt that GertrudeandAlice should join Barbie Cher, Barbie Rosa Parks and Barbie Eleanor Roosevelt. They too were icons in their day particularly during the triumphant 1934-35 U.S. lecture tour when newspapers and radio broadcasts around the country featured them on a daily basis.

Once I saw the Barbie movie, it struck me that there was also not only an iconic link, but also one that seemed more concrete. The main theme of the movie is patriarchy, also a theme Gertrude often addressed in her work including in the poem “Patriarchal Poetry” written in 1927:

“Let her be that is to be let her be that is to be let her be let her try.
Let her be let her be let her be to be to be shy let her be to be let her be to be let her try.
Let her try. . . .
To be shy.”

Could all the “hers” be Barbies? What more validation did I need – a thesis or dissertation on Barbies and Stein?!

So, I have created an upcycled Barbie Gertrude Stein and an upcycled Barbie Alice B. Toklas. They will be viewable at gertrudeandalice.com after February 4th.



In Alice’s cookbook as she decorates the bass for Picasso with red mayonnaise, she writes that using ketchup would be a “horror of horrors.” It must be tomato paste.  For some that is the perfect exclamation for AI. AI, horror of horrors!

I have tried it over the past year. The creation of images is horrendous and needs much refining, but the generation of text is truly mind -boggling. For a short story that I wrote a few months ago, I used some of the names that it had created for my characters and I believe that there are some viable uses of AI by writers and other artists.

For Gertrude’s 150th, I requested an AI application to create birthday letters from some of the key people in her life. The average letter was 201 words with the longest one from Carl Van Vechten, a mere 28 words longer than Alice’s.  The shortest one was from F. Scott Fitzgerald. The greetings from Michael Stein, Eleanor Roosevelt and Pierre Balmain were the same length. Here are excerpts ending with Alice’s complete letter.

Through the magic of AI, Leo seeks reconciliation after more than 100 years, Mabel Dodge Luhan makes another play for Gertrude and Alice longs for the “countless memories we have yet to create  together.”


Dear Gertrude,

Happy 150th Birthday! I hope this letter finds you in good health and spirits as we celebrate this momentous occasion together, albeit in spirit.

As a photographer, I was captivated by your presence and the challenge of capturing the essence of your brilliance through the lens. Your face, your gestures, and your expressions spoke volumes, revealing a soul that was both intense and tender. Your thoughts and ideas were equally captivating, leaving a profound impact on all those lucky enough to know you.

With affection and admiration,

Carl (Van Vechten)

Dear Gertrude,

Wishing you a truly marvelous 150th Birthday! .

Your friendship and support have meant the world to me, and I am forever grateful for the opportunity to dress you in designs befitting your grace and intellect.

With sincere admiration and affection,

Pierre (Balmain)


My Dearest Gertrude,

Happy 150th Birthday! Today, we celebrate not just a remarkable milestone but the enduring legacy of an exceptional mind.

As we reflect on the years that have passed, I am filled with gratitude for the moments we shared, the conversations that stretched our minds, and the laughter that resonates in my heart. You have been an anchor, a muse, and an irreplaceable companion throughout the years.

You continue to be an inspiration to artists and thinkers alike, and your impact on the world is immeasurable.

With all my affection and admiration,

Pablo (Picasso)

My Dearest Gertrude,

On this momentous occasion of your 150th birthday, I send you my warmest and most heartfelt wishes.

You have always been an ardent advocate for artistic freedom, encouraging us all to break free from conventions and embrace our true selves in our work. Your boldness and pioneering spirit have forever changed the artistic landscape.

With the utmost admiration and gratitude,

Henri  (Matisse)

Dear Gertrude,

Though time and circumstances have kept us apart, on this momentous occasion of your 150th birthday, I find myself compelled to send my heartfelt wishes to you. It has been many years since we last spoke, and life has taken us on different paths, but the bond of family remains.

Your intellectual brilliance and artistic endeavors have made an indelible impact on the world, and I am proud to see the recognition and admiration you have rightfully earned.

As I reflect on the memories of our shared past, I am reminded of the deep connection we once had, and I hope that someday we might find a way to bridge the gaps that have grown between us.

May the celebration of your 150th birthday be a testament to the profound impact you have had on the world and the enduring legacy of the Stein family.

With sincere regards,

Leo (Stein)

My Dearest Gertrude,

Happy 150th Birthday! Today, I join the chorus of voices celebrating the remarkable life of a true visionary.

Our friendship has been a source of immeasurable joy and

Your salon gatherings have been a haven for artists, writers, and thinkers to exchange ideas and challenge the status quo. You have always been at the forefront of artistic innovation, fearlessly pushing boundaries and daring us all to see the world through fresh eyes.

As we celebrate your 150th birthday, I am filled with gratitude for the memories we've shared, the laughter we've enjoyed, and the profound conversations that have enriched our lives.

With all my love and warmest wishes,

Mabel (Dodge Luhan)

Dear Gertrude,

Happy 150th Birthday!

From the early days in Paris to our lively conversations in your iconic salon, your wisdom and insights have left an indelible mark on my writing and my life. You believed in my potential when others doubted , and your unwavering support gave me the courage to pursue my literary dreams.

Your experimental and innovative writing style challenged conventional norms, inspiring a new generation of writers to break free from traditional constraints.

With admiration and warm regards,

Ernest (Hemingway)


Happy 150th Birthday, Gertrude!

As a New Yorker writer and an avid admirer of your groundbreaking work, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to send my warmest birthday wishes on this momentous occasion.

Your unique literary voice and experimental prose have forever changed the landscape of modern writing. Your daring approach to language and the bold exploration of thought have left an indelible mark on literature, influencing writers across the globe.

As I delve into your works, I am continually struck by the depth of your insights and the profound beauty of your prose.

With heartfelt congratulations and admiration,

Janet (Flanner)

Dear Gertrude,

Happy 150th Birthday!

Your contributions to the literary world are unparalleled, and your friendship has been a cherished part of my life. Our encounters at the bookstore and beyond have been nothing short of delightful, and your passion for literature and art has been a guiding light for many, including myself.

Your unwavering support for aspiring writers and your dedication to fostering creativity have made a lasting impact on the literary community. Your salon gatherings have been a haven for writers and artists to exchange ideas and find inspiration, creating a nurturing environment for artistic growth.

With love and admiration,

Sylvia (Beach)

Dear Gertrude,

On this momentous occasion of your 150th birthday, I send you my warmest and most heartfelt greetings. Though time and circumstances may have kept us apart, the bond of family remains strong.

Your unwavering dedication to pushing the boundaries of creativity and thought has left an indelible mark on the world of literature and art.

As your brother, I have always admired your tenacity and fearlessness in pursuing your passions and expressing your unique voice. Your groundbreaking work continues to resonate with audiences worldwide, and your influence on the artistic community is immeasurable.

With love and affection,

Michael (Stein)

My Dearest Gertrude,

Warmest 150th Birthday greetings to you! As we commemorate this momentous occasion, I am filled with fond memories of our meeting at the White House back in December 1934. Your presence and insights left a lasting impression on me, and I continue to hold you in the highest regard.

Your contributions to literature and the arts have been nothing short of extraordinary. Your unapologetic authenticity and innovative writing style have challenged norms and inspired generations of writers and thinkers.

Your friendship with Alice B. Toklas has been a beacon of love and devotion, a testament to the power of deep connections in our lives.

With admiration and warm regards,

Eleanor Roosevelt

Dearest Gertrude,

Happy 150th Birthday!

Your revolutionary approach to language and storytelling has forever altered the course of literature, and your works continue to captivate and inspire readers worldwide. Your unique voice, fearless in its exploration of thought and emotion, has set a standard for authenticity in writing.

Our encounters and exchanges of ideas have been treasured moments in my life. Your friendship and support have encouraged me to push the boundaries of my own creativity and to embrace my true artistic vision.

With heartfelt admiration and affection,

Virginia (Woolf)

My Dearest Gertrude,

Happy 150th Birthday! As your collaborator and friend, I am honored to extend my warmest wishes to you on this momentous milestone.

Our creative journey together, marked by the operas "Four Saints in Three Acts" and "The Mother of Us All," remains one of the highlights of my career. Your brilliant librettos and imaginative words challenged me as a composer and pushed the boundaries of musical expression.

Your unique approach to language and storytelling inspired me to create music that would resonate with the very essence of your words, resulting in works that continue to captivate audiences to this day.

With heartfelt admiration and gratitude,

Virgil (Thomson)

Dear Gertrude,

Happy 150th Birthday! As a fellow writer and admirer of your literary genius, I couldn't miss the opportunity to extend my warmest wishes on this extraordinary milestone.

Your unique style and innovative approach to storytelling have forever changed the landscape of literature. Your words, like brushstrokes on a canvas, paint vivid portraits of the human experience, leaving an indelible mark on readers and fellow writers alike.

Our encounters in Paris were a source of inspiration, and your support and encouragement fueled my own creative endeavors. Your friendship was a cherished gift, and your influence on my writing will forever be treasured.

F. Scott (Fitzgerald)

Dear Gertrude,

Happy 150th Birthday!  I am thrilled to join the chorus of well -wishers celebrating your remarkable life and legacy.

Your innovative and groundbreaking contributions to literature have left an indelible mark on the artistic world. Your bold experimentation with language and narrative has inspired countless writers to explore new frontiers of creativity.

Our interactions and discussions have been a source of enlightenment, and your keen insights into the human condition have enriched my own understanding of storytelling.

With heartfelt admiration and warmest regards,

Thornton (Wilder)

My Dearest Gertrude,

As the world comes together to celebrate the 150th anniversary of your birth, my heart swells with a profound love and admiration for the remarkable woman you are. Oh, how fortunate I am to have shared this journey of life with you, my soulmate and beloved companion.

From the moment we met, there was an inexplicable connection between us, a bond that transcended time and space. You, with your unwavering spirit, fierce intellect, and unique perspective on the world, have illuminated my existence like a radiant beacon. Your words, so artfully crafted, have touched the very depths of my being, forever leaving an indelible imprint upon my heart.

Your steadfast support and unwavering belief in me have given me the strength to grow and flourish as an individual. You've encouraged me to embrace my passions and talents, always standing beside me, offering gentle guidance and profound wisdom.

In your presence, my dear Gertrude, I feel an overwhelming sense of tranquility and belonging. Your love envelops me like a warm embrace, providing solace in even the darkest of times. With you, I have found a sense of home that transcends physical boundaries, a home within your heart.

Your artistry and brilliance have brought new colors to the canvas of my life, infusing each day with beauty and wonder. As we've navigated the ebb and flow of life's challenges, our love has remained an unbreakable bond, weathering the storms and cherishing the joys together.

On this momentous occasion of your 150th birthday, I want you to know that my love for you has only grown stronger with each passing day. Your presence in my life is an immeasurable gift, and I cherish every precious moment we've shared.

Here's to a lifetime of love, my dearest Gertrude, and to the countless memories we have yet to create together. May the years ahead be filled with joy, adventure, and the continued exploration of love's boundless wonders.

Happy 150th birthday, my love. You are the muse that fuels my creativity, the beating heart that sustains me, and the love that completes me.

Yours forever and always,



And so, Happy Birthday Gertrude Stein!

Yes, birthdays are very favorable too and Gertrude, we have remembered you.

Rose graphic by Tom Hachtman


Birthday Exhibition Information:

Birthdays Are Very Favorable:
Gertrude Stein at 150

Feb. 3 – 29, 2024

3977 24th St.
San Francisco


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Hans Gallas is, in addition to being an obsessive collector, the author of the picture book, Gertrude and Alice and Fritz and Tom with Tom Hachtman. He lives in San Francisco with his partner.

©2024 Hans Gallas
©2024 Publication Scene4 Magazine



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