Loving Care for Fading Masterworks
Murals are like people: they age. After years of exposure to the elements, they pucker up and fade. Sometimes it's just dust and grime. Other times, the paint peels, or cracks appear and entire chunks disappear, erasing people and symbols from the story.
Precita Eyes Muralists is a leading steward of mural restoration in the Mission district and around San Francisco. "Preserving these cultural assets is central to our mission," says Susan Cervantes, founder and director of the 40-year-old mural arts center. "And there are so many older community murals that need attention."
In fact, a recent 2016 assessment conducted by Precita Eyes in the Calle 24 Latino Cultural Corridor determined that half of the 100 murals surveyed are in "poor" to "fair" condition. It doesn't take an expert eye to notice: local residents often contact Precita Eyes to point out murals in need of tender loving care.
Preserving "The Great Cloud of Witnesses"
WALLS OF GENERATIONS: At left, faded newspaper clip from 1992 of Precita Eyes artists Susan Cervantes and Selma Brown painting the mural that rings the top of The Great Cloud of Witnesses, inside the Ingleside Presbyterian Church. At right, Cervantes' son Suaro atop a scaffold 25 years later, preserving the giant collage.
Panorama of The Great Cloud of Witnesses of the Gymnasium.
The San Francisco Historic Preservation Committee calls it an "awe‐inspiring" work of folk art that "serves as an extraordinary, unparalleled visual documentation of national and San‐Francisco‐specific African American history."
The "Great Cloud of Witnesses" is a mural unlike any you've ever seen. Looking for a way to inspire community youth, Reverend G. pasted a single newspaper clipping of his hero, Muhammad Ali, to the wall of the church gymnasium in 1980. Over the past 37 years, the collage has expanded to cover, from top to bottom, the entire gym, fellowship hall, stairways, hallways, bathrooms, basement, and meeting rooms -- basically, everywhere but the sanctuary. The collage‐mural consists of newspaper and magazine clips, photos, flyers, posters, prints, poetry, painted murals, and a dizzying array of objects that celebrate heroes and history.
Precita Eyes muralists Suaro Cervantes and Ernesto Paul spent several weeks recently working on "the cloud," cleaning, sealing, and resisting the temptation to read the wall-to-wall scrapbook as they were working on it.
Ringing the top of the gymnasium wall is a sunset-colored fringe with the portraits of 10 civil rights leaders. This mural was created by an earlier Precita Eyes crew — Susan Cervantes, Selma Brown, Ronnie Goodman, Marta Ayala, and Patricia Rose. Suaro Cervantes remembers accompanying his mother Susan to the church, back in 1992.
The monumental collage-mural was granted SF historical landmark status last November. But it is not open to public yet, says Rev. G, "unless you want to stop by during church services, when you're more than welcome to attend."
Flags of the Americas Return to 24th
Take a walk down 24th between Mission and Potrero and look up. The Flags of the Americas are back, each one a colorful homage to the national identity and symbols of the continent.
Attached to street poles along the 12-block stretch of the Calle 24 Latino Cultural Corridor, the mini-murals have been preserved and restored, thanks to work undertaken by Precita Eyes and funded by a Special Project Grant from the Mayor's Office.
The original metal banners were painted in the 1980s and stood sentry over the street for 30 years. But sun, wind, and rain took their toll, deteriorating the artwork and fading the lettering. So much so, that many people had never noticed they were there.
Top row shows the deterioration of 30 years in the elements. Bottom row shows national symbols in their newly restored glory.
That was the case with Precita Eyes conservation technician Yano Rivera.
“It's hard to do when you aren't familiar with the original,” he explains, because the goal is to mimic as much as possible. Instead, he relied on respect and intuition.
“Uncertainty slows you down,” Rivera notes. Piecing together details from both sides, studying unfaded areas, and examining the silhouettes of disintegrated brushstrokes are the most labor-intensive part of the project.
Then there's the process itself: washing away grime; scraping away the old vinyl lettering; creating a layer of varnish over the remaining original paint; mixing new paint to match the original colors; and repainting the original artwork. An acryloid coating with UV protection ensures vibrant colors and graffiti protection for years to come.
The restoration project began in May 2016. All 27 flags have been restored and almost all are back on the street.
The flag restoration project is a “cultural, visual representation” that celebrates the Mission district's Latino identity, according to Joaquin Torres of the SF Office of Economic and Workforce Development office, as reported in Mission Local.
Puentes Mural Project Takes Over Mission Street
FACELIFT: After 33 years, the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts mural gets a touch-up.
For a mural to recover its original vibrancy, anything from a touch-up (maintenance and preservation) to a full facelift (restoration) may be required. (Repairing graffiti defacement is a subject in itself.)
Full restoration may involve not only the muralist, but also a support crew of historians, architectural preservationists, community activists, and the guiding spirit of the original artists.
In the best scenario, the creators themselves can undertake the restoration. Such is the case with work now underway on the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts (2868 Mission St.), where two of the original muralists — Carlos Loarca and Betsie Miller-Kusz — are leading the process. With funds raised by the Puentes Mural Project Committee (chaired by Precita Eyes founder Susan Cervantes), the 3700-square foot facelift began in early April and will take approximately a month to complete.
In the absence of the original artist, the work is entrusted to borrowed hands. "When you restore a mural, you don't paint the way you'd paint a mural from scratch," explains Carla Wojczuk, a Precita Eyes collaborator . "Up close, every painted image breaks down into its abstracted brushstrokes, and those brushstrokes are not yours, but those of the original muralist. Instead of applying your own artistic interpretation, the goal is to bring back to life what was originally there."
"As we hand-washed the mural, I felt like I was bathing my elders."
— Carla Wojczuk, on the restoration of MaestraPeace (Women's Building, 3543-18th St.)
Other Precita Eyes restoration projects:
SAVING FACE: Detail from the restoration of "500 Years of Resistance," St. Peter’s Parish at 24th St. and Florida. The mural was created in the mid-1990s by Salvadoran muralist Isaias Mata, and restored by the artist in 2012.
* Mission Health Center (2016): Created in the 1970s by Michael Rios and Graciela Carrillo, the murals are located at 240 Shotwell St.
* "Sí Se Puede" (2014): Created in 1995 at the Cesar Chavez Elementary School (825 Shotwell St.).
More information here.
Schoolchildren's Giant Veggies Adorn the Tenderloin People's Garden
A giant carrot, an onion with tears, and florid head of lettuce stand like sentries at the gate of the Tenderloin People's Garden, at the corner of Larkin and McAllister.
The faux veggies are painted in greens so vivid you can almost taste them. Eighteen wooden cutouts are sandwiched between the slats of the fence that encloses the garden. The cutouts are the handiwork of students from nearby Bessie Carmichael Elementary School, fruits of a three-month artist in residency program.
"Veggies for the People" employed paint and poetry to connect the 3rd and 4th graders to their community garden and neighborhood concerns about lack of access to healthy, affordable, fresh produce.
The Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation, located across from Civic Center Plaza, distributes the produce it grows to the residents.
Towering high above the small corner plot is the monumental mural "Growing Together,” a six-story homage to urban gardeners. Painted by local volunteers and Precita Eyes Muralists, the mural was unveiled last November. (Read more here)
|DRONE'S EYE VIEW of the "Growing Together" at the Tenderloin People's Garden. Drone footage by @Culturedvisualarts founder (Freeman) @trappedoutfreeeman captures "Growing Together" at the Tenderloin People's Garden from the sky.
"Veggies for the People" Installation
Precita Eyes partnered with the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts' artist-in-residence program at Bessie Carmichael over the course of 10 weeks. Master muralist Fred Alvarado mentored the students from rooms 207 and 208 in basic drawing, watercolor, and acrylic techniques.
Addressing the students at the project's closing ceremony, "Mr. Fred" reminded them that the process of making art "teaches you to be creative in searching for solutions." The Oakland-based muralist works with youth at Richmond Arts and Contra Costa Community College, and is part of Precita Eyes' new Walls of Respect youth arts program.
Students enjoyed the chance to express themselves in words and paint. Dan, a third-grade, not only composed and recited his Ode to Soup (below), he also took on the job of painting a cucumber nearly as big as he is.
The exuberant forms and colors the students gave their art were inspired by a poetry workshop organized by 826 Valencia/The Writing Center. The Odes celebrate foods from soup to pineapples. The collected verses will be published in a chapbook for the students and their families.
"Veggies for the People" combines arts education and community development in an inner city patch of San Francisco where affordable, fresh produce are hard to find. The installation connects local schoolchildren to the TNDC's healthy food projects and its advocacy of food justice.
Located south of Market, Bessie Carmichael is the K-8 school closest to the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, which supported the artist-in-residence program. The school's Filipino Education Center is one of the few city programs with instruction in Tagalog.
In a celebration held at the YBCA (and not in the garden itself, as planned, due to heavy rain), students recited their food-themed verses to classmates, parents and well-wishers.
Desiree Badong, here to chaperone and hear her daughter Kira read a poem, praised the arts program as a "therapeutic, helpful, wonderful outlet for children living in a neighborhood full of challenges."
Gardener Alex Dazhan, who tends the Tenderloin garden, told students how the garden benefits local people by providing them access to healthy food. He encouraged them to bring their families to the garden, show off their artwork, and receive free produce. On Harvest Day, which takes place every other Wednesday, garden produce is distributed free-of-charge to community residents.
This project is a collaboration between the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Precita Eyes Muralists, the 826 Valencia Writing Project, the Tenderloin Development Neighborhood Corporation, and the Tenderloin People's Garden.
BEHIND THE GARDEN FENCE: Winter harvest of edible greens and fantastical foods.
IN THE SHOP: Artist-in-residence Fred Alvarado and Precita Eyes’ volunteer artists transform the student's visions into super-sized morsels.
VEGGIES GUARD THE GARDEN, as the "Growing Together" mural looks on.
Student Odes To Food and Art
Verses by Bessie Carmichael students are among the fruits of this garden project. Three poetry sessions organized by 826 Valencia's Tenderloin Center introduced youngsters to the joys of "simile, exaggeration, personification, and the telling detail," says coordinator Jillian Wasick. The odes will be published in a chapbook for the students and their families.
Some of the odes exalt the virtues of apples, pineapples, cucumbers, and garden greens; others celebrate pizza, spaghetti with meatballs, and the sour candies of
"Spaghetti , Spaghetti, You Are the Best
Spaghetti, you are as wiggly as an earthquake inside Jell-O.
Spaghetti Sauce, you are as red as a fire truck. ..."
You are as pretty as a puppy..."
"Oh cucumbers, thanks for being my favorite color.
You are health. You make me strong..."
"Oh Soup, thank you for your tastiness and kindness.
You taste sweet and flavorful
with a pinch of non-spicy pepper.
Soup, you make a call and say, "I am deeeeelish!"
Precita Eyes’ Class Act: Mural-Making at Schools
It's a sunlit day in late January, and Ms. Dox's 4th graders at JFK elementary pull taunt the red ribbon they're about to cut to inaugurate the mural they've been working on for months.
They've got the drill down pat, and it's not surprising. This is the school's fourth mural with Precita Eyes in two years, and the second this year. (See "Our JFK Community Mural Project” , and "Legacy of Heroes Mural Project")
Murals, a bit faded, from collaborations years ago with a previous generation of students, still line the halls.
"They bring such light and life to our campus," says Matt Harris, the principal of this Daly City grade school. "They're a lasting legacy. We have parents who were here when those first murals were painted."
"So, how long do you think these murals will be here?" Yuka Ezoe, Precita Eyes Education Director and lead artist for this project, asks the class. "Maybe 30 years? You'll all be in your forties!"
The 10-year olds respond with groans and laughter.
The students named this mural "United."
"They had so much to say," says teacher Morgan Dox. "So many students are immigrants themselves or from immigrant families. The mural gave them a chance to celebrate their individual cultures. Students went home and asked their families about their cultural heritage and its symbols."
And the students? Here are comments taken from reports they wrote, documenting their experience.
* "I didn't know what cultural heritage meant. I thought it might mean something about our culture. Then Ms. Yuka explained. I drew things, like a cobra and Filipino food."
* "We had to draw signs of our culture and choose something to be on the mural. I chose an Aztec dragon from Mexico."
* "They asked us where we're from. Then we had to sketch something representing our country. They gave us books to get more ideas. I found it might be good to put the Great Wall of China there. I was happy to draw it."
* "I wanted my flowers and the Samoan flag."
Dozens of Murals, Dozens of Schools
In the past several months, Precita Eyes artists have led more than a dozen projects in area schools. The lengths of the projects differ, from long-term (up to three months) to instant (one-day) murals. So do the sources of funding, which can come from parents, community grants, arts organizations, or others.
But the methodology employed in the classroom is always the same: with grace and encouragement, the Precita leaders walk the students through these steps: theme development, research, sketch, composition, working to scale, creating the master drawing, gridding, transferring and, finally, painting.
One boy described the process this way: "Mr. Joe (Colmenares, the second Precita artist on this project) told us to put our pencil in front of us and pretend our pencil was a rose and to pretend to smell it."
Selecting symbols, picking and choosing, agreeing on colors and location of the imagery: it's a lot of collaboration for children. And sometimes painting can get a bit messy.
"Joaquin's mom helped us," wrote one girl. "My hair was down, so she made me look like the princess from Star Wars. Ms. Yuka gave me two kinds of paints and I tried mixing them. But they started dripping on me. So she helped me clean it up.
Snapshots in Schools
|Students at the Nueva School (Hillsborough) line up to paint the instant mural "Unity, Equality, and Change"
|Second grade students at Peabody painted scenes from the marine, savannah, desert, rainforest, forest, and freshwater realms in "Preserve our Biomes
||Welcome to the mural dedication at George Peabody Elementary School (San Francisco), guided by lead artist Francisco Franco.
|"Spirit of Change": Youths at the San Mateo County Behavioral Health and Recovery Services depicted a swan fleeing from a cage, a symbol that express the need to free themselves in order to experience the changes of life. At center, a pack of wolves runs with hares. The concept of prey and predator coexisting is rare, the young artists explained, and something they would like to see in their communities. Precita Eyes collaborators Eli Lippert and Priya Handa guided the youth. More here
New Lakeview Mural Brings Heritage to Life
At the corner of Broad and Plymouth in San Francisco's southwestern Lakeview/OMI district, history and heroes take pride of place
UNVEILED ON DECEMBER 17, the new mural depicts the stories of Lakeview as told by its residents.
Highlights include the M Ocean View muni line and the workers who laid down the tracks, a BBQ, the Orizaba rocky outcrop, and the abundant fog. Portraits celebrate community leaders Dr. Annette Shelton, Will Reno, Mary and Al Harris, and Michael L. Brown, alongside historical photos from the local library. Also highlighted are the produce market next door, the IT Bookman Community Center, and the Minnie & Lovie Ward Rec Center.
MEET THE MURAL MAKERS: Precita Eyes team Nic Winstead, Susan Cervantes, Xavier Schmidt and Max Marttila; SF Supervisor John Avalos; neighborhood organizers Mary and Al Harris; and Diana Ponce de Leon from SF's Invest in Neighborhoods.
LOCAL LEGENDS AND LEADERS: The mural adorns the outside wall of Lacy's Barbershop (formerly known as Furlough's Tonsorial Parlor) at 101 Broad St. At left, current owner Lloyd Lacy cuts the hair of previous owner Mr. Furlough. At right, Dr. Annette Shelton
The Lakeview mural has come to life through the support of local residents, neighborhood businesses, community groups, and these organizations:
Mural in progress: Scenes from the community day.
At lower right, Felicia Edosa of Inner City Youth lends a hand.
Local Heroes, Local Landmarks
in SF's Lakeview Mural
An unexpected sunny morning in late October enticed families, friends and neighbors in SF's Lakeview district to grab brushes and join a community painting session at the latest Precita mural-in-progress.
Lead artist Max Marttila manned the scaffolds, mixed pigments, and made sure that volunteers of all ages kept their brushstrokes between the lines.
The mural at the corner of Broad and Plymouth is titled "Lakeview,” the name still favored by residents over OMI, a newer acronym for the combined Oceanside, Merced, and Ingleside neighborhoods.
Painted on the side of Lacy’s Barbershop, the mural celebrates a scene in which the current barber, Lloyd Lacy, cuts the hair of Mr. Furlough, the previous barber.
The IT Bookman Community Center and Minnie & Lovie Ward Rec Center also take pride of place.
The mural features a salute to the neighborhood’s natural setting, with the Orizaba Rocky Outcrop and an abundance of fog.
Traversing the panoramic vista are workers laying down the tracks of two Muni lines: the M Oceanview line that serves the district and the old green F Train.
Framed portraits pay tribute to many community leaders, including Dr. Annette Shelton (who works around the corner) and Inner City Youth (ICY) founder Michael L. Brown, who recently passed away.
"His inclusion helps keep his legacy going," notes ICY member Felicia Edosa. "It's something we can look to everyday." She means this literally: the ICY building faces the mural from the opposite side of Broad Street.
Holding a brush and tin of blue paint, SF Supervisor John Avalos expressed his faith in projects, like the mural, that bring people together to validate their experiences in the face of economic stress and social change. The largely working-class Lakeview/OMI district is home to the city's most ethnically diverse population (more than 50% foreign-born, according to Avalos), and has the city's highest concentration of families and seniors.
At lower right, the The Precita Eyes team: Fredericko Alvarado, Susan Cervantes, Suaro Cervantes and Elaine Chu.
In Boston, Heritage Made Visible
Many Streams, One River: Precita Paints Latino Student Pride
It was a whirlwind process that transported a team of Precita Eyes muralists from San Francisco to Boston and concluded two weeks later with Northeastern University's newest landmark: a monumental mural of Latino student pride.
"We Are All Streams Leading to the Same River / Todos somos arroyos del mismo rio" covers three sides of the Latino/a Student Cultural Center (LSCC)building at 104 Forsythe Street.
This 25 ft. x 125 ft. (roughly 2,200 square feet) mural depicts the history and presence Latinos at Northeastern University campus and was initiated by students seeking to give visibility to their culture on campus.
“When I was a freshman, not a lot of people knew where the LSCC was," student Amy Lyu told a local newspaper. "There wasn’t even a plaque on the building. We just wanted to give LSCC some recognition. And what better way to do that than a mural?”
The work is part of Northeastern's Public Art Initiative. But unlike other commissioned works, the mural has been almost completely student-driven.
Guiding the process was Precita Eyes' Susan Cervantes and crew (Elaine Chu, Fredericko Alvarado and Suaro Cervantes). The SF mural arts center was selected from a long list of artists proposed by the students.
Nearly 200 volunteers -- students, staff and alumni -- showed up to plan and paint.
The group mixed abstract concepts, like unity, passion, and respect, with images of dancers in traditional regalia and flags of the Americas unfurling from the LSCC logo.
The unveiling took place on Oct. 11, 2016.
"We Are All Streams Leading to the Same River" (Precita Eyes)
Northeastern’s Newest Artist-in-Residence Puts Mural in Students’ Hands (News@Northeastern, Oct. 3, 2016)
New Mural Celebrates Latinx Community (Huntington News, Oct. 13, 2016)
Residency: Susan Cervantes and precita Eyes (with photo gallery)
Artist Josué Rojas. (Photo: Leah Millis/The Chronicle)
¡Gentromancer! Conversations with
the Spirit of Gentrification
An exhibit by Precita youth program alum Josué Rojas combined paint, drawings, murals, and poetry to "spark conversations with the spirit of gentrification."
iGentromancer! was inspired by poems written by incarcerated youth, SF Poet Laureate Alejandro Murguía, and other local voices against displacement.
Rojas coined the term iGentromancer! to conjure up, and then exorcise, the multiple and masterful manipulators of gentrification at loose in the Mission district.
The artist credits the Precita Eyes' community for keeping him out of serious trouble as a teen by introducing him to art.
“Murals opened up my life,” said Rojas in an interview with the SF Chronicle on how arts can bring healing to the Mission as it struggles to preserve its identity in the face of economic pressures.
Read the poems that inspired the exhibit in El Tecolote.
In the Mission for nearly 40 years.
Precita Eyes Designated One of
SF's First Legacy Businesses
Precita Eyes Muralists is one of nine treasured and historic local businesses named to the city's first legacy registry.
Soon to celebrate its 40th anniversary, Precita Eyes has been painting and repainting its beloved Mission district since 1977.
The registry was created last year with the passage of Proposition J. Businesses (including non-profits like Precita Eyes) approved for the registry are eligible for grants to safeguard their continued presence in their neighborhoods.
To qualify, businesses must have been operating in the city for at least 30 years and face the risk of displacement; have made distinctive contributions to neighborhood history and identity; and continue to maintain the features or traditions (including craft, culinary or art forms) that define them.
Precita Eyes was nominated for the legacy designation by SF Supervisor David Campos, who singled it out as "one of only a handful of community mural centers in the country... training artists in its unique community mural process, offering mural classes, and working closely with the entire community."
"This organization has played an important role in the history and identity of District 9," Campos stated. The designation was announced in August.
Here are San Francisco's very first Legacy Business recipients
(SF Curbed, Aug.11, 2016)
Precita Eyes founder Susan Cervantes conducts a blessing.
Cutting the ribbon: Kristie Nicole, Kasey Asberry, Yuka Ezoe, Ira Watkins, Susan Cervantes, Julieta Flores, Max Marttila.
(Photos: Nathan Oliveira/Jennie Sommer)
A New Mural Grows in the
Tenderloin People’s Garden
Precita Eyes Muralists and the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation celebrate the community garden’s newest bloom.
November 16, 2016 -- Every other Wednesday is harvest day in the Tenderloin People’s Garden, a patch of green in downtown SF's Tenderloin district. But on November 16, the garden bloomed with a different type of offering: the dedication of the new “Growing Together” mural.
Towering six stories above the garden from the McAllister Hotel on the corner of McAllister and Larkin, the mural is a collaboration between Precita Eyes and the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation (TNDC).
At the ceremony, Precita Eyes founder Susan Cervantes offered blessings, while artists and friends cut the ceremonial ribbon.
"The mural is a high fidelity representation of the energy in the neighborhood," said local gardener Kasey Asberry, of UC Hastings Law School (located across the street), “and of human scale amid enormous institutions.” Her comment is well-illustrated by this drone’s-eye view of the mural and surrounding buildings. The Tenderloin is the "undiscovered garden district of San Francisco," she noted, with at least a dozen gardens.
Precita Eyes artists Susan Cervantes, Yuka Ezoe and Max Marttila were joined by Tenderloin Artists Collaborative member Ira Watkins, TNDC staff, garden volunteers, and neighbors in designing and painting. Asberry praised Precita Eyes for its approach to convoking the community and "really representing its vision."
Artist Ira Watkins described his participation this way: "I stumbled into a good opportunity and I'm so glad I did. I met great people and I hope the public will enjoy our work."
As soon as the scaffolding came down in September, Precita Eyes and the TNDC were honored by SF Beautiful with its Seven Hills Award for making “a significant contribution to the creation of unique neighborhood character.” The SF Beautiful blogpost describes "Growing Together "as “a vibrant mural that exemplifies the community at its zenith.”
At the mural’s center, a woman holding a shovel and a man with beets form the pillars of a gateway topped by a cityscape of Tenderloin landmarks. Vines spell out “Tenderloin People’s Garden” above a sunrise of San Francisco fog, signifying the early mornings when gardeners work. Hands cradle a heart of leafy greens, neighbors harvest together, and a guitarist plays notes transformed into birds, kale and spinach. The melody creates a spiral of water bearing a boat symbolizing the many journeys that bring people to the Tenderloin.
The People’s Garden
Created in 2010 on a vacant lot near SF City Hall in an area with no produce stores, the Tenderloin People’s Garden grows healthy food its low-income neighbors. Volunteers of all ages tend the plot and produce is distributed free twice-monthly.
The project received a SF Community Challenge grant.
* TNDC’s Tenderloin People’s Garden Mural Project, 2016
* The Garden Mural photo album