Virginia Tieman

Archive for the ‘Purpose’ Category

Once upon a time….

In Purpose on December 13, 2011 at 3:11 pm

Once upon a time the walls and walkways of the world were plain, dreary and untouched. As the days flew by turning into months then years illustrations began to form. Cavemen drew stick figures, Egyptians created  hieroglyphics, and from those days on, people have been known to tell stories through images and produce humble to massive sized artwork.

Murals have been around since word of mouth started its climb into the common. Starting this blog was a way to get more coverage on what seems to be the “unordinary” and instill this message that art is always around and trying to flourish — especially in San Francisco. I have enjoyed roaming the city and uncovering stories and hope that I have inspired some of you to do the same.

Take a stroll, walk, or jog, and when you find something put up on a wall, stop and give it some attention. Artists, most of the time, paint or imagine something for a reason and it is put up on a wall or walkway with passion, enthusiasm and love for the work they do. If you find yourself wondering what the artist was trying to accomplish, how they obtained the space, or simply want to know more about their personal life I suggest seeking out the information. Don’t be afraid to talk to someone when the answer is not too far away. One thing I can take away from this is knowing that people are willing to talk to you when they have put so much time into accomplishing something and they’d love to share a little bit about themselves.

You could end up learning about a tattoo artist, someone who does murals as they travel, you could get a private tour of a famous building or even surprise yourself by learning something you wouldn’t have believed before. Not to mention, murals have a way of appearing in historical buildings that have a message of their own.

I hope to continue this blog when I return from my study abroad adventure in Amsterdam and will take my curiosity for the background behind art and see what Europe has in store for me. One of my main suggestions, which I hope you have picked up by now, is to stay hungry for knowledge and let yourself get an eyeful when walking about San Francisco — you never know what you might discover with a little attention to detail.

Lastly, I want to thank everyone who was willing to let me interview them, take photos of their work, take photos of them, and also do some video. I would also like to thank my professor and classmates — we’ve all been spreading our own message one way or the other this semester. I hope you enjoyed my blog because I sure did enjoy exploring the sights this city has to offer.

Best wishes,

Virginia M. Tieman


Graffiti: Art or Trash?

In Public, Purpose on December 5, 2011 at 8:26 am

During my interviews throughout the months I sat down and asked the same question to three people. Do you view graffiti as an art form or just as trash on a wall? Needless to say I spiked some interest in the interviewees’ eyes and recorded their responses.

While dating back to Greece and the Roman Empires, graffiti has even been around since the first cave drawings on a wall. However, as society changes the meanings of things change as well. Graffiti ranges from letters to full blown wall paintings and has received stings of negativity as spray cans fall into the wrong hands. You will be hearing from Karina Lopez, Megan Stevens and Mary Joy Scott and hear what they have to say about graffiti.

City College’s Diego Rivera Mural

In Artist, Public, Purpose on December 4, 2011 at 3:12 pm

Today I sat down with Karina Lopez, a student docent for the mural titled Marriage of the Artistic Expression of the North and of the South on this Continent, and picked her brain about the facts surrounding the mural painted by Diego Rivera.

*Sections with a star before text denote information later added. William Maynez, who has done research on the mural for 15 years, took the liberty to clarify some information.

When did Rivera paint the mural and how long did it take?

He painted this mural in 1940 and it took him four months.

What was the main message he was trying to send and why did he do it for the setting of a college?

It represents the unity between Latin America and the United States; he tried to portray that throughout the mural. He painted it at Treasure Island for the Golden Gate International Exposition and it was an exposition where different artists were being featured. It actually took 21 years for the mural to come to City College of San Francisco.

Can you go into further detail about why it took so long for the move?

That is actually the interesting part. That guy in the brown suit (points to part of the mural) his name is Timothy Pflueger and he commissioned Rivera to do the mural for us. He was also the architect for our science building so he had connections with our campus. And, as you notice from the mural right there (points to Pflueger again) he is holding blueprints in his hand — he was supposed to be the architect for the CCSF Library where the mural would be moved but he ended up dying in 1946. So he didn’t complete it. Also, back in the 1940s our college was smaller than it is right now and the college had no idea were to put this jumbo sized mural. So it wasn’t until 1961 were his younger brother Milton came in and built this theater for us. (Referring to the Diego Rivera Theater). That is when the mural ended up being with us.

*The mural arrived to CCSF from Treasure Island in June 1942. It was in storage for about 18 years on campus until it was erected. (So for all but 1-1/2 years of the mural’s existence, it’s been on our campus.) The original site for the mural, the grand library was not built because of the scarcity of materials during WWII. (The library that eventually got built in Cloud Hall was more modest and could not accommodate the mural.) After Timothy’s death, his brother Milton Pflueger, became the school architect and it was his idea to bow out the theater’s lobby wall that finally allowed the mural to be installed. The up side was that the mural was on display. The downside was that the viewing distance was lacking by about 60 feet.

Rivera was fully aware of his intentions to move the mural to CCSF?

O yeah, for example, notice the ram right there? (Pointing to the high middle of the mural). That’s actually the CCSF mascot. And the swimming leaping from both sides she is a CCSF alumni.

What are some of the prominent messages in the mural?

The mural as you know was done in 1940. So here is Rivera putting his political views with the big strong American hand crushing the Nazi hand. 

He also puts a V shape which represents a mason symbol which he does throughout his mural just like the ones he has done in Mexico.

Did Rivera have any help completing this mural?

O, yes. One of the people who actually helps with the mural is painted in it with a red sweater. She is actually the main assistant on this mural. And after Diego and Frida (Diego’s wife) left, she took notes about what food they ate and what music they were listening to but she did not published any of her notes. So we really don’t even know what she was writing about. (Lopez chuckles)

* Diego’s primary assistant Emmy Lou Packard (ELP), who had met Rivera in Mexico when she was 13, went and stayed with Diego and Frida for 10 months in 1941 after the mural was finished. She took notes about her stay there. A famous photo of Diego and Frida in their kitchen was taken by ELP in 1941. Well known photos of Frida and ELP are the only documented pictures taken by Diego (with ELP’s camera.)(Of the myriad assistants, she is one of only three who actually got to
paint on the mural.)

Tomorrow I’m having lunch with our good friend Donald Cairns, ELP’s son, and the little boy in the lower center of the mural by Diego and Paulette Goddard. Many years ago he gave us access to all of ELP’s notes (compiled over decades) and we very well know what she wrote about and have copies in our CCSF Rivera Archives. Half of the originals are in the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art and the other half may soon possibly be donated to the Bancroft Library, UC Berkeley. These notes
and the extensive Pflueger notes we have give us a compelling picture of the whole process of doing the mural project. Our archives are used by scholars from all over the world.

Did Rivera want his work viewed as a whole or in sections?

You can actually take each panel off and it’s not just one big piece. I’m not sure because the thing about him is that when Rivera finished his exposition in Treasure Island he left and I believe he died before this mural was actually put right here. So he never stepped foot right in this building or saw his mural featured right here.

* The fresco mural (painted on wet plaster) was meant to be seen as a whole and is actually only 1/3 of what was planned. It was built on robust steel framed panels because it was always intended to be transported from Treasure Island to CCSF. The upper panels weigh almost three tons. Their size was determined by the ability to transport them across the Bay Bridge in a vertical orientation. Together their dimensions are a mathematical metaphor for the GG Bridge.

Why did Pflueger wants to commission Rivera to do this mural?

He was a huge, huge supporter and fan of him. Also, if you supported Rivera he would most likely put you in the mural. He is in two spots of this mural. Notice the red building in Treasure Island, that is connected to Pflueger and this building right here, which is at 450 Sutter St., Pflueger was the architect.

* Pflueger was not in the original drawing and was added belatedly in the mural. As head of the Art In Action program at the GGIE, he was able to gather pieces from the program (Ram, DaVinci bust, Volz mosaic murals) to adorn the Science Building, which in 1940 comprised the whole school. He had previously worked with Rivera in 1931 on the Pacific Stock Exchange project. Rivera’s “Allegory of California” mural resides in what is now the private City Club, the old stock exchange dining room.

Do you think that is a theme with frescos? Putting your friends and family in your work?

I think it could be. Rivera put his friends and families.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Yeah. This is an interesting part. So, basically here is Frida, which is his third wife by the way. They actually got divorced because Rivera cheated on Frida with her sister. But they got married here in San Francisco for a second time on Dec. 8 which happens to be Diego Rivera’s birthday. And it has been rumored that the earrings she has on were a gift from Pablo Picasso.

* (This is documented and the earrings have recently surfaced at the Casa Azul Museum, Frida’s home.)

One last thing?

I can talk about the mistakes in the mural. So, you know how it was done as a fresco, fresco is this paste that dries really fast, you see this bumping part right here? That part is not supposed to be bumpy it’s supposed to be smooth. And you can see this little line below this girl’s skirt, Rivera kept changing his mind. And right above us, notice *Otto Deichmann’s foot, you can see it kind of overlapping with the women’s foot. Rivera didn’t chip away at it because he didn’t have the time and had to work past. He also signed the murals three times. He signs it on the side, in a letter, and on a pocketbook. It’s super tiny on the pocketbook and most people won’t see it.


From there I had the opportunity to speak with William Maynez on the phone, the Curator for the mural, and he shared with me some additional information.

The mural’s nickname is Pan American Unity and the college plans on moving the mural to a better location for the viewing eye.

“The mural is 60 feet short of being in the optimum place for viewing,” said Maynez.

He said they plan on creating a space next to the new Performing Arts Center that will be built along Phelan Ave.

I regret not having the opportunity to speak with Maynez for a longer period and urge my readers to seek out the mural and enjoy the information there for the benefit of learning. Click here to go to the mural’s website.

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Gain Insight on the Coit Tower Murals

In Artist, Public, Purpose on November 27, 2011 at 8:17 pm

A sign that is positioned in Coit Tower for all to see reads:

“In January 2008, Coit Memorial Tower was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Although the building is noted for its Art Deco design, the chief reason it received this national honor was for the twenty-seven murals that grace the rotunda and inner stairwell of the structure.

When Coit Tower was completed in 1933, its interior consisted of over 3,000 square feet of blank wall space. But in early 1934, the building became the pilot project of the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP), an offshoot of the Civil Works Administration, one of the “alphabet soup” of federal agencies that put people to work during the Depression. One of the goals of the PWAP was “…to support porfessional artists and thereby create quality art.” A committee headed by Dr. Walter Heil, director of the de Young Museum, selected the common theme, color palette, and sizing of the murals.

Many of the most important Bay Area artists of the time were hired to create the artwork. The twenty-six artists worked together to support the unified theme of Aspects of Life in California, 1934, depicting scenes of agriculture, education, urban and rural life, and New Deal idealism. Inspired by the 1920s public art movement in Mexico, the decision to use the medium of fresco for the murals was linked to artists such as Diego Rivera, with whom several of the Coit Tower muralists had worked. In fresco, the artist paints directly onto a wet plaster surface; as the colors dry, the picture becomes part of the wall and any changes must be chipped out. The muralists earned an average of $31.22 per week, completing the project in six months’ time.

In the 1930s, the American art scene was divided into two distinct schools: Regionalism, which glorified rural America, and Social Realism, which offered a more critical and urban view of American society. This political and idealistic split within American art is clearly represented in the body of work inside Coit Tower.

Before the Tower opened to the public, during the politically charged atmosphere of the 1934 Maritime Strike, several murals were negatively described in the press as depicting Communist symbols. Eventually one of the controversial pieces was removed, and the building finally opened to the public in October 1934.

With some murals restored in 1960 and others in 1975, the Coit Tower murals remain a definitive representation of the art of the Great Depression.”

Maria Conlon, in the video below, speaks about various murals in Coit Tower — highlighting hidden images that can’t be seen without previous knowledge.

As a journalist and someone who enjoys learning the history behind cultures, I suggest that everyone should go on a Coit Tower mural tour and be enriched by the lessons and history that is packed so nicely into the building.

Below are photos and details of the murals in Coit Tower.

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Also, here is a list of the artists and murals that make up the walls of Coit Tower. (Some are mural titles while others are descriptions of which pieces they painted)

1. Ray Boynton; Animal force and Machine force.

2. John Langley Howard; California Industrial Scence

3. William Hesthal; Railroad and Shipping

4. Clifford Wight; Surveyor and Ironworker

5. Ralph Stackpole; Industries of California

6. Suzanne Scheuer; Newsgathering

7. Bernard B. Zakheim; Library

8. Malette Dean; Stockbroker and Scientist-Inventor

9. Victor Arnautoff; City Life

10. George Harris; Banking and Law

11. Frede Vidar; Department Store

12. Clifford Wight; Farmer and Cowboy

13. Maxine Albro; California

14. Ray Bernard; Meat Industry

15. Gordon Langdon; California Agriculture Industry

16. Otis Oldfield; SF Bay, East

17. Jose Moya; SF Bay, North

18. Rinaldo Cuneo; Bay Area Hills

19. Otis Oldfield; Seabirds and Bay Area Map

20. Fred Olmstead Jr.; Power

21. Lucien Labaudt; Powell St.

22. Parker Hall; Collegiate Sports

23. Edward Terada; Sports

24. Ralph Chesse; Children at Play

25. Edith Hamlin; Hunting in California

26. Ben F. Cunningham; Outdoor Life

27. Jane Berlandina; Home Life

What’s the difference between my blog….

In Purpose on August 31, 2011 at 10:33 am

…and other websites related you ask?

  • SF Mural Arts does an amazing job in locating the murals in San Francisco and even has an interactive map where you can click on a neighborhood to explore the murals it has to offer. However, background information on the artwork and artists is lacking and my goal is to highlight the stories from the artist’s thought process to the mural’s meaning.
  • If you find yourself captured by a certain mural’s beauty or simply want to add an essence to a restaurant, visit Mural Arts Studio’s website and purchase a mural for yourself. This website is ran by San Francisco mural artists Les Seymour and Brenda Cole Seymour and has information about their work and history. One thing that I appreciate about this website is they offer a page that illustrates the different techniques an artist can use to put together a masterpiece. However I plan to cover a broad spectrum of San Francisco and highlight a mural that peaks a wide spectrum of peoples’ interest.
  • Another way a website goes about covering murals is offering tours and taking pictures of the pieces from start to finish. Precita Eyes Mural Arts Association’s focus is the murals in the Mission and offers tours that start from $2 to $15 (prices range based on age). This website is chalk full of the association’s message and history and does a fine job in showing pictures of murals. One thing is that information is lacking about the murals, partly due to tours offered, and I’ll provide information that is easily accessible.

The main difference is I will be supplying my readers with added information on murals and artists to not only allow San Francisco to show why it is one of the most visited cities, but also capture history still amongst us today.