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Historic San Francisco Mural to be Overcoated

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

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In a unanimous vote, the San Francisco School Board has decided to remove the “Life of Washington” mural depicted at George Washington High School.

The city plans to pay up to $600,000 for the overcoating project.

About the Mural

Painted in 1936 by Victor Arnautoff, a Russian-American muralist who became popular during the Depression, the “Life of Washington” was once believed to be an educational artwork about one of the United States’ Founding Fathers.

The fresco mural (painted directly on the wall) is made up of 13 panels and measures 1,600 square feet.

At the time, the mural was funded by the New Deal’s Works Progress Administration’s “Federal Art Project” and reveals some of Washington’s key life moments, including his role as a general, surveyor and statesman. However, the mural also depicts slaves laboring on Washington’s Virginia estate and pioneers standing over dead Native American people.


Due to the sensitivity of the artwork portrayed and during a time when many similar works are being re-examined for their controversy, the San Francisco School Board felt it most appropriate to side with the students who expressed feeling uncomfortable and degraded by the mural; these views have been expressed since as early as the 1960s, according to TIME Magazine.

"I understand the importance of art, and it should be the last thing we do, to attempt to cover any kind of art up," said San Francisco School Board vice president Mark Sanchez.

"The starting point has to be from those who feel they are harmed and how that is unacceptable, especially given the history of this country. When we don’t listen, we don’t learn. Painting over the work represents not only a symbolic fresh start, but a real fresh start."

However, professor emeritus of geography at the University of California, Berkeley and director of the history project, Richard Walker, explained that the mural was meant to show “uncomfortable facts” and that covering up the mural is “the worst way we can deal with historic malfeasance, historic evils.”

While advocates for the mural removal include students, George Washington High School alumni and Native Americans, many art activists are asking the board to reconsider.

What’s Happening Now

Regardless of requests to reconsider, the board still intends on painting over the historic mural, but plans to digitally archive the painting beforehand. Until construction can begin, as to avoid a lawsuit or delay, the school has chosen to cover up the wall until final issues are resolved.

Work on the $600,000 project is slated to take more than a year, with part of the costs reserved for a required environmental review and any possible legal challenges.


Tagged categories: Coating Materials; Coatings; Historic Preservation; Maintenance + Renovation; Murals; Murals; NA; North America; Overcoating; Paint; Projects - Commercial; Schools

Comment from William Gusnard, (7/17/2019, 8:22 AM)

So yet once again, history is being erased because of the sensitivity of a few versus the greater value being portrayed.

Comment from Simon Hope, (7/18/2019, 3:45 AM)

These bleeding heart wishy washy liberals should be made to think about the long term impact of their minority views on the future. Turning everything into their romper suit vanilla will destroy huge tranches of history and culture, you cannot rewrite history!! If they don't like it, don't look! Get real and get a life, stop interfering, get over it. We have equally moronic behaviour from similar, supposedly well thinking idiots, in the UK

Comment from john lienert, (7/20/2019, 3:19 PM)

Those who do not learn from history, are bound to repeat it." Santyana

Comment from David Boyd, (7/22/2019, 12:11 PM)

This is what happens when schools stop reading George Orwell 1984!

Comment from Michael Halliwell, (7/23/2019, 12:32 PM)

Congratulations...yes, bad things happened in the past...we were not always as enlightened as we are now, and the future will judge how enlightened that actually is at some point in the future. Once you realize that, you have two ways to deal with things like this mural: 1) you remove the offending material using the nondescript, gender and race neutral material of choice so that those made uncomfortable by said history are not made uncomfortable in the future and do not have to confront the realities of the past or 2) you take it on directly, accept that it happened and, although "uncomfortable" for some, you use it to teach about our growth as individuals, a community, a nation and in a global perspective.

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