Historic San Francisco Mural to be Overcoated
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.
A group of influential art, historic preservation and free-speech advocates plans to put a measure on San Francisco’s March 2020 ballot that would preserve a controversial mural at George Washington High School that’s slated to be destroyed. https://t.co/xxbTBLX2Xj— San Francisco Chronicle (@sfchronicle) July 16, 2019
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.