Sunday Stills, the next challenge: Murals

Ed is a truck driving photographer from Tennessee who hosts a photography challenge blog called Sunday Stills here on WordPress.

This week Ed would like to see some MURALS.

Oh this is such a difficult challenge as I love taking photos of street art. So what should I choose? The amazing murals from Chemainus on Vancouver Island? Murals from Little Italy in San Diego? Or the random graffiti in Lisbon? Or what about the plethora of murals in and around Clarion Alley in San Francisco?  And then there are the murals in North Beach.  What a dilemma!

But some of my favourite murals, and the ones that have made the most impact on me, have to be the ones created in the Coit Tower, a 210 foot high Art Deco landmark in North Beach, San Francisco. You can get there by a steep walk up some steps or a #39 bus up Telegraph Hill – famous for its wild parrots, though I didn’t see any.

The views are good from the base of the tower, but I urge you to go inside to look at the 19 murals painted by 27 artists in the Depression era. Many of them studied under Diego Rivera. The themes focus mainly on “leftist” and socialist topics, popular in the 1930s.

The first painting you are likely to see as you enter the building is Ray Boynton’s Animal Force and Machine Force (with Diego Rivera’s eyes) over a doorway. (Above)

(please click on an image to enlarge it)

“Industries of California” Mural (Partial) by Ralph Stackpole

The Stackpole mural depicts chemical, steel mill, cannery, news gathering, packaging line and other workers as cogs in the machines of industry. As a tribute the mural is compositionally very similar to Rivera’s first sketch (all that Stackpole would have seen) for the recently destroyed Rockefeller Center mural.

“Library” Mural (Partial) by Bernard Zakheim


Library, a public library interior mural at Coit Tower was painted by Bernard Zakheim a Polish Jew who sought political asylum in San Francisco after World War I. Zakheim helped organize the Coit Tower mural project along with Ralph Stackpole.  An experienced muralist, Zakheim’s scene includes portraits of fellow artists, assistants and his daughter.

One of the figures, John Langley Howard, reaches for a copy of Karl Marx’s Das Kapital while crumpling a newspaper in his other hand. The titles of books on the shelves include ‘Rexroth,’ (the poet, essayist and social critic Kenneth Rexroth is reaching for a book on the top shelf) ‘Hitler’ and ‘Oscar Wilde’ (controversial because he was suspected of being homosexual). Newspaper headlines cover the artists protest of the Rivera fresco destruction (which Stackpole is reading) and other topical subjects. Jewish literature and traditions are also included in the painting.

The girl in the blue dress is artist Bernhard Zackheim’s daughter.
“City Life” Mural (Partial) by Victor Mikhail Arnautoff

City Life is one of the largest murals at Coit Tower painted by Victor Mikhail Arnautoff who had worked as an assistant to Diego Rivera in Mexico and taught at the California School of Fine Arts (CSFA). Arnautoff later taught at Stanford University returning to Russia after the death of his wife.

The controversial mural includes a traffic accident (rear centre), armed robbery (front right) and leftist newspapers. In addition a fire engine (Knickerbocker Engine Company No.5—a tribute to Lilly Hitchcock-Coit) and the San Francisco Stock Exchange (with sculptures by fellow muralist Ralph Stackpole) are depicted.

“Picking Oranges” by Maxine Albro


California Agriculture, a mural by Maxine Albro depicts farming tasks associated with the four seasons. The NRA and eagle symbol on the crates workers are filling with oranges refers to the National Recovery Administration and the Blue Eagle Drive.

The Blue Eagle Drive was the name given to a moral propaganda campaign to convince business to “do their part” and adhere to self governmental codes to hasten recovery from the depression.

“Department Store” by Frede Vidar


Available for purchase are fabrics, toys, wines and music. Shoppers rest at the lunch counter where the special is advertised at 25c

The Cowboy on the left of the picture  is one of four separate panels produced by Wight (Leaders of California Life)

“Dairy Farming” by Gordon Langdon

6For more information and more incredible murals visit my set of the murals on Flickr – I obtained the information from a US Teaching History website which seems to have disappeared now.

Now pay your $5 to go up in a rickety lift to the top of the tower where you have 360°panoramic views of the city and bay. Incredible!

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I have lived in the UK for most of my life, but when young I definitely had wanderlust and even ended up living in South Africa for several years which was a wonderful experience. I now look forward to a long and leisurely retirement doing what I like most - gardening, photography, walking and travelling.

31 thoughts on “Sunday Stills, the next challenge: Murals”

    1. They really are amazing. You can spend a lot of time studying these as there is so much going on in them. I’d happily pay for the privilege of viewing them. Thanks for the visit nowathome 🙂

  1. Marvellous stuff Jude! I really like the Rivera work, and enjoyed the films ‘Cradle will rock’ and ‘Frieda’ which both showed him working on the Rockefeller Centre. I didn’t know it had been destroyed though. That is sad news.
    Regards as always, Pete. x

    1. Thanks Pete. This is probably my favourite place in SF. I’d love to go back and see the ones on the first floor too. I also want to visit the San Francisco Art Institute to see the Diego Rivera Gallery and his “Making a Fresco” mural. I do hope they preserve those in the Coit Tower!

    1. Hi Sandra, they are all so interesting, my photos don’t do justice to the quality of the work. A very interesting time in America.

  2. These murals look wonderful – thank goodness for your eye and your camera! I have a feeling they were mentioned in passing on a BBC arts programme about Frida Kahlo some time ago now – your pics jogged something lodged in my tiny brain. cold look at all of these for a very long time, and keep noticing new details.
    Best challenge to date, Jude – and that’s saying something 🙂

      1. No worries – I have a very erratic mouse, drives me mad, but I can’t use the touchpad on my laptop as I develop RSI if I am not careful.

    1. Thanks for the compliment Jenny, I’m glad you are enjoying them. Every time I look at these images I notice something new. The city scenes in particular have so much going on in them.

  3. Extraordinary details, Jude! The muted colours of City Life really appeal to me. I’ve never seen anything like these in a public space! Going back to check out your links 🙂

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