A school board in San Fransisco has voted to spend $600,000 to remove a mural painted during the Depression by Victor Arnautoff, a Russian immigrant and the most important muralist in the Bay area at the time. It was a WPA project. The WPA commissioned fine public art all across the country during the Depression. The WPA hired talented local artists for local projects. Here in San Antonio, there is a beautiful mural at the old U.S. Courthouse building, now known as the Hippo Garcia bui
Mr. Arnautoff was a committed Communist. He rejected the traditional depiction of George Washington in thoughtful prayer at Valley Forge. He sought to capture the viewer’s attention by showing the Father of our country in daily life with slaves picking cotton and a dead Indian laying nearby, as colonists walk by. At the time, high school history books generally overlooked the incongruity of Founding Fathers who had owned slaves, wrote Robert W. Cherny in “Victor Arnautoff and the Politics of Art.”
The school board could have simply voted to cover the mural it found offensive. But, instead, despite vocal opposition, it voted to paint over the 13 panels. The pictures offend the children, noted the board members. The murals glorify slavery, genocide, and colonization, said an advisory group, the Reflection and Action Working Group. The committee is composed of activists, students and artists. Yet, according to the New York Times, 49 freshmen at the school were asked to write about the murals. Only four advocated that the murals be covered or removed.
The Board Vice-President, Mark Sanchez, said simply covering the murals was not enough, because they could be uncovered sometime in the future. He also said it was a grave mistake to paint the mural 80 years ago with no imput from Native Americans or African-Americans. Its a hurtful thing, an aggressive thing and it is too much for our young children to bear, he insisted.. See New York Times editorial here. The title of the editorial: “San Fransisco Will Spend $600,000 to Erase History.”
It is ironic. In 1956, Mr. Arnautoff was interrogated by the House Un-American Activities Committee, the House version of Sen. Joe McCarthy’s notorious committee, because he drew a caricature of Richard Nixon. Today, we have a new generation of persons protecting us feeble persons from more un-American activities.