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. These murals are phenomenal, Jude. I need to go into Coit Tower next time I’m in San Francisco to see these for myself. Your photos of them are wonderful.

    1. To be honest Susan I could have spent all day looking at these murals, the detail in each of them is incredible.

  2. oh Jude these are just beautiful . . . can certainly see why the ones in Olhao reminded you of them. And glorious in technicolour.

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