Titles address SF’s long, rich history with public art 

San Francisco has a long and rich history of public art, as reflected in two very different books: “Depression-Era Murals of the Bay Area,” which documents the many murals created under the Works Progress Administration from the early 1930s through the mid-1940s, and “The Bernal Story: Mediating Class and Race in a Multicultural Community,” where longtime Bay Area mediator and Bernal Heights resident Beth Roy describes a process used to resolve a controversy over a popular neighborhood mural.

Like most Arcadia Publishing volumes, “Depression-Era Murals” consists primarily of full-color reproductions of The City’s many important murals, as well as vintage black-and-white images of the murals being created.

After a short introduction providing historical context, and basic information such as distinctions between the techniques of fresco, egg tempera and oil on canvas, the text offers succinct descriptive captions.

The handsome book begins with the frescos at Coit Tower, which have recently been restored. It goes on to include those at the Beach Chalet, Aquatic Park, Rincon Center, and at Mission and George Washington high schools.

It also highlights Diego Rivera’s largest single-piece mural, “Unión de la Expresión Artistica del Norte y Sur de este Continente” (commonly called “Pan American Unity”), originally displayed at the Golden Gate International Exposition on Treasure Island and now installed in the Diego Rivera Theatre at City College. The majority of the murals are in San Francisco city limits, rendering the Bay Area of the title slightly misleading.

In her carefully considered case study, “The Bernal Story,” Roy details the dynamics of the bitter battle surrounding a 1980 mural on three walls of the Bernal Heights branch of the San Francisco Public Library, undergoing renovation.

Part of the “Syracuse Studies on Peace and Conflict Resolution” series, the book includes a foreword by John Paul Lederach, whose influential peacebuilding techniques are employed by Roy, who explains: “Three concepts that frame understandings of conflict were very apparent in the Bernal experience: identity, interests and power.”

Identifying issues, stakeholders and strategies in the argument over restoring or painting over the mural, Roy acknowledges participants’ ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds as she gently, but firmly, guides the group to consensus. Only recently resolved, the resulting reinterpretation of the artwork reflects changing times and honors the full population of the neighborhood.

Images and an index might have improved this very-valuable book, which, like “Depression-Era Murals of the Bay Area,” explores the ongoing importance and power of public art.


Depression-Era Murals of the Bay Area

By Nicholas A. Veronico, Gina F. Morello, Brett A. Casadonte and Gilda Collins

Published by Arcadia Publishing

Pages 95

Price $22.99

The Bernal Story: Mediating Class and Race in a Multicultural Community

By Beth Roy

Published by Syracuse University Press

Pages 192

Price $29.95

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Jim Van Buskirk

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