Frances Thompson

3/01/15 - Memorial for Fran Thompson coming up March 28th at the Muir Woods Park Community Association Clubhouse, Mill Valley, California - Read more on official announcement below.

3-03-15 - Three PDFs of Notes by Fran (thanks to her niece Molly Tenenbaum for sending)

On E.L. Hazelwood - tiny addition by DC - E.L. was from a tiny town in West Texas - that's the Southwest.

Old Fogies Zen - with a phrase added by Marian

Between Morning and Evening Zazen - for Suzuki Stories (although she doesn't remember the him in it)

11-30-14 - RIP Frances Thompson who just passed away. Frances was an early student of Suzuki Roshi, the 2nd tenzo at Tassajara, the illustrator of the first Tassajara Bread Book. She lived many recent years off Panoramic Hgwy above Muir Woods and then moved to SF where she's been some years.

Here is a note I received from her niece, Molly Tenenbaum:

I am Frances Thompson's niece, and I'm sad to tell you that my beloved aunt died last night at about 6:40 p.m.

Apparently she had a heart arrhythmia episode and then was taken to the hospital. She remained unconscious. When Dan (my brother) and I got here yesterday, she was taken off of life support, as were her wishes, and the rest was very peaceful. She breathed and then she did not.

She has mentioned you and I thought it would be important to let you know right away. Do you know who any of her other Zen-connected friends are? Should I tell the SF Zen center? I don't know much about Zen Buddhist customs, but there may be something they want to do right away.

I have Fran's rakusu, which, as she instructed, will be burned with her.

Thinking of Fran and sending her out into the next iteration,

Love to you all.


Frances Thompson remembered on SFZC's Sangha News

Letter from Fran - 11-23-07

Letter from Fran 2-11-08

Letter from Fran 3-14-08-a

Letter from Fran 3-14-08-b

Letter from Fran undated

page 10 TASSAJARA CALENDAR, HERBAL & BESTIARY - Tim Buckley and Frances Thompson

page 13 ABOUT THE GARDENS AT TASSAJARA - Frances Thompson

PDF with these articles extracted from Vol. 9: 70-02 Wind Bell

Vol. 9: 70-02, Complete Wind Bell

Cloud Hidden Friends Issue 1 - 1983 - has a page with a note from Fran about Shunryu Suzuki and sweat potatoes and Tassajara and a drawing. It's about eight pages in.

Here's a page for Frances' drawings of bread baking - Kent Rush also credited.

Point Lobos: An Illustrated Walker’s Handbook - with art by Frances Thompson - thanks Steve Tipton


I forgot - Frances did the line drawings for Crooked Cucumber - the little doodles between chapters and sections.

Fran's art work is all over the Tassajara 25 Year Anniversary Book


Everyday Good Cooking - a resume

7-14-13 - My friendship with Marian Derby Wisberg by Fran Thompson

Fran was the conduit to communicate with Marian Derby Wisberg. The cuke archives has a large box of letters - years of correspondence between the two of them.

Fran Thompson's message about Marian's death

Marion Derby Wisberg died in the early morning hours of May 15.  She was 90.  Jack (her husband)  called me the next  day . He said Marion had been fine the day before.  That she had low blood pressure and went about her day as usual.  They went to bed (twin beds) and in the morning Marion was sprawled on the bed with her eyes open , stone cold.  Good way to go.  I told Jack I'd notify Zen Center and he asked me to wait until he'd talked with her son and family.  Jack gets very suspicious of others and it upsets him to let even a piece of information out of his control.  Yesterday I called Marion's family who said of course.  Marion and I still kept up a correspondence, although less often as we got older.  She called on the phone occasionally and was able to speak clearly .  She had not completed her latest book (Snail Zen)  but had arranged to put it into someone else's hands to complete.  Her ashes will be interred at a cemetery in Los Osos (near Morro Bay) where Jack has a family plot. 

12-01-14 - The obituary for Francis Thompson below is from her niece Molly Tenenbaum who also sent this photo and wrote:

This photo was taken on a beautiful sunny day last September, 2014, on a walk at Crissy Field, a park in San Francisco by the bay. You can see she's wearing her binoculars. We had just seen a long-billed curlew, which she was excited about.

Frances Anne Thompson

February 10, 1933 – November 28, 2014

Frances Anne Thompson died peacefully of a heart condition Friday night, November 28.

Frances Thompson was born in Yokohama, Japan, where her father worked for the Dollar Steamship Line. When she was two years old, the family returned to the U.S., settling in Seattle. Over the next several years, her father tried many jobs and business, and the family moved many times, in Seattle, down to Oregon, and eventually settling in North Hollywood, California, where her parents divorced and Fran attended North Hollywood High and UCLA.

At UCLA, not only did Frances study biology and art, but also she became involved with the Hiking Club, exploring the mountains and deserts of California with people who became lifelong friends. She earned her B.A. in Art in 1954.

She traveled to Europe in about 1956, where she did a brief course of study at Le Cordon Bleu. All her life, she was a fantastic cook. At Tassajara, for a period, she was the head cook, and later, when she lived in Pacific Grove, she worked as a private cook.

She continued her study of the biology and the wildlife of California with graduate work (1961 – 63) in zoology and botany at UCLA and at Stanford University Hopkins Marine Station.

After college, she worked in California and New York as a scientific illustrator, eventually traveling back to California in 1967, where she joined the Zen community. From 1967 to 1971, she had her Zen Buddhist training at San Francisco Zen Center and Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, with Shunryu Suzuki, Roshi, and Sotan Tatsugami, Roshi.

From 1972 – 1992, Fran studied Chinese painting technique and calligraphy with many great teachers: C.C. Wang, Alison Stilwell, Min Chiang Lin, and Hau Bei Ren.


Upon leaving Tassajara, Fran lived for many years in Pacific Grove, California, where she spent her time painting and hiking, particularly in her beloved Los Padres forest. She would take her sketchbooks out into the woods, then return home to turn the drawings into paintings with Chinese brush and watercolor.


Frances moved to Mill Valley in about 1989, where she lived on a ridge overlooking Muir Woods, painted the surrounding hills, plants, and animals, and made connections with the Green Gulch community. In about 2007, she moved to San Francisco, where she brought her same particular humor-tinged observational skills to the streets and shops of the city.


Over the years, she gave many workshops and classes in Chinese Brush technique, and showed her work in galleries and museums all over the Bay Area.

Her publications include The Monterey Bay Aquarium Coloring Book, Point Lobos, An Illustrated Walker’s Handbook, and illustrations for The Tassajara Bread Book.

On permanent exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium are 75 identification renderings of marine  invertebrates.

Since moving to San Francisco, Fran volunteered as a docent at the Academy of Science, where she enjoyed talking to the public about tide pools and earthquakes.

Her great pleasure in life was observing and painting nature. Her overall project was to bring a Zen sensibility and a Chinese brush to the specific creatures and landscapes of California. She loved music—at age 75 she began learning to play the violin. She loved opera, and went to many performances of the San Francisco Opera (she appreciated the standing-room policy!). She greatly loved her friends, good jokes, wordplay, and jolly dinner parties that lasted long into the evening. She was an entertaining and ever-interesting conversationalist.


She is survived by her loving niece and nephew, Molly and Dan Tenenbaum of Seattle, by her cousins Bob Will and Daniel J. Evans of Seattle, and by her many, many friends.

Thank you for letting me know.  I liked and respected her.  We will put her name on our two altars. - Richard Baker

Ah, Frances!  Look at her drawings of the sea lion and cormorant for the Point Lobos guide, and catch their eye.  - Steve Tipton

we will chant for her. in recent years she had come to practice with us quite a bit though i hadn't seen her in a while. she was a dear person, enthusiastic and wondering, like a young person, even though she was old. but she didn't seem old. - Norman Fischer


I am in London right now on vacation, and am very sad to hear this news about Fran - she told me a few years ago that she hadn't been to Tassajara in many years, and I wished there was a way I could have got her down there for a visit. Her rakusu had beautiful calligraphy, and was in good condition considering its age. - Shundo David Haye

12-03-14 - Summer Cattle by Frances Thompson. She wrote:

Near Olema, Marin County, these Black Angus cattle stand in a row under the shade of big live oaks. While I was working, sitting on the pasture grass in the field, a calf sneaked up and ran off with a paint rag.

thanks Molly


 Below is the backside of framed photo above from Frances' wall. Can see it bigger on the photo page


The above letter Fran contributed to one of Ananda Dahlenberg's Cloud Hidden Friends Newsletters

Memorial for Fran Thompson 

Join us to celebrate, remember, and offer many bows for the amazing life of Fran Thompson.
Painter, friend, hiker, chef.
Conversationalist, biologist, naturalist.
Docent, birdwatcher, gardener.
Hostess, auntie, traveler, humorist.
Observer of nature, people, seasons, and life.
Student of Shunryu Suzuki, Roshi; Sotan Tatsuagami, Roshi; Alison Cameron Stilwell; and C.C. Wang.
Absolutely unique human being. 

Date & Time
Saturday, March 28, 2015
2:00 p.m.

Muir Woods Park Community Association Clubhouse, Mill Valley, California

Yourself and other friends of Fran you may know.
Items for the altar (mementos, trinkets, anything you wish that reminds you of Fran). 

RSVP and Directions
Please RSVP to let us know how many people to expect. An RSVP form and directions are available at

Photos and Art

Contact Molly Tenenbaum at

Please pass on to other friends we may have missed.