Category Archives: Museum News

Press Release: Victor Arnautoff Mural

Restoring an Art Treasure: Richmond Industrial City Mural

It?s been a long journey for renowned artist Victor Arnautoff?s mural, Richmond Industrial City. The eye-catching mural, commissioned by the United States Treasury Section, hung in the Richmond Post office from 1941 until 1976 when it was taken down due to remodeling. Decades passed; the crate it was stored in went missing; and mural was eventually declared lost. Until a city custodial employee found it in 2014 in an unlit closet in the basement of the same Post Office.

Since then, Richmond Museum of History and Culture Director Melinda McCrary has worked tirelessly to raise funds to restore the mural. Those efforts are about to come to fruition with major help from Scott Haskins, Art Conservator and Author, and his team at Fine Art Conservation Laboratories. The mural has been with Haskins in Goleta, California since May 2020.

Haskins and his team were trained in Italy and have decades of experience restoring treasured art work. He?s careful to point out that they are not artists and they don?t do anything creative. What they do is painstaking labor that requires some detective work to determine what materials were used in the original art. And it is all done with a long term goal in mind.

?The art conservation process involves knowing what materials were used and how they react to the environment. When a paint company tells you this is their best quality of paint, they mean it will last 10 years. We think in terms of generations, a century. Everything we do has a long term process in mind,? says Haskins. He points out that the government?s goal in funding art like Arnautoff?s was to establish a legacy. ?It was meant to be the artistic imprint on our community,? he says.

While art restoration might make one think the restorers are painting over something, Haskins says they don?t even have oil paint in their laboratory. Instead they work with special paint that is made for art conservation that can be removed easily without damaging the original. They use cotton swabs and work with one color, one spot at a time. They are touching it up using a very small brush with just a few hairs, one dot of color at time. Then they apply varnish first with a brush and then a spray gun.

Haskins says the Richmond mural visually looks to be in good condition but ?the drama and the traumatic effect of taking it off the wall has taken its toll.? Especially because the glue used in those days is rock hard. And the mural needs to be cleaned. ?We?re looking to have zero impact on causing stress. We have to stabilize the painting from past stress,? he says.

Richmond?s Arnautoff mural presented interesting challenges. Haskins says that around World War II, there were many new inventions and the war prompted new technology: paints and varnishes, glues, resins, and paint for battle ships. Since war
needs got priority, Haskins said, ?If artists found a spare can of paint around, they used it. When we get into it, we don?t discount the fact that he could have done something different. We are hyper vigilant.?

Haskins shares Melinda McCrary?s commitment to preserving the mural, ?The idea of preserving our heritage and understanding our legacy is very important to the community,? he says ?Richmond doesn?t have a famous cathedral but we do have things that prompt our memory. People tell stories that perpetuate the valor and importance of the times. And this mural has a completely different effect than a picture in a book. It?s a panoramic mega view.?

Restoration of Richmond an Industrial City should be completed by September 2020. In the meantime, residents can see how many Richmond landmarks from the mural they can identify in the museum?s Trivia Game at www.richmondmuseum.org/mural. And Scott Haskins will take interested supporters inside his laboratory to see how the restoration is coming along. Donations to defray the cost of the restoration are welcome. More details at richmondmuseum.org or by email at melinda@richmondmuseum.org. # # #

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Spring 2020 MIRROR Newsletter

MIRROR Newsletter

We hope you enjoy this most recent issue of the MIRROR newsletter. Thanks so much for the entire newsletter team for coming together to publish this issue during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Museum and Ship both remain closed to the public to adhere to the shelter in place order. Thanks to everyone who has stayed home.? California is flattening the curve!

Click here for the Spring 2020 issue of the MIRROR. MIRROR Spring 2020 – FINAL

Dr. Charles R. Blake & the Spanish Flu

Richmond & the Spanish Flu

Dr. Charles Robert Blake (September 9, 1869 – December 27, 1944) was the public health officer in charge when the Spanish Flu swept through the City of Richmond in 1918-1919. The museum archives holds the secrets about how our community emerged stronger from past epidemics.

Charles Robert Blake was born September 9, 1869 in Visalia California. He attended public schools throughout his life and attended University of California for Medical School graduating in 1891.

Dr. Charles R. Blake CCC Health Officer

Charles is listed as residing at 1844 Geary Street in San Francisco but the historical buildings there have since been demolished. OpenSFHistory.org allows us a peek of his neighborhood with a photograph of the intersection of Geary and Steiner on October 18, 1916.

Geary & Steiner (1916)
Charles Blake’s residence at Geary & Steiner while a medical student at then University of California. Courtesy of OpenSFHistory.org

Charles worked for several years in Hawaii after graduating from medical school. He married Lilian Hoog of Oakland in 1898 and they had one son Herbert in 1900. The 1900 census lists Charles, Lilian and baby Herbert living in the City of Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii. Charles came to Richmond in 1903 and was elected to the City Council as early as 1907.?

Dr. Blake enacted many important changes to improve public health in the City of Richmond, aspects of life that many of us take for granted today. In 1914 he set out on a mosquito abatement campaign while also managing outbreaks of diptheria and measles.?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 1916, Dr. Blake began requiring all milk sold in local markets to be pasteurized when the State board of health did not require pasteurization of milk tested with tuberculin.

Pacific Municipalities, vol. 30 1916 Courtesy of Google Books

In 1917, Dr. Blake crusaded for improvements in the outdoor Municipal Market, complaining that dirty water, unsanitary food storage and nearby open latrines were a threat to public health.?

 

Dr. Blake worked as a public health official until 1943 and navigated the changes brought with the influx of people that came here to work in the Kaiser Shipyards. He voiced his concerns for overall public health in the City of Richmond warning the health of the City would explode from unsanitary conditions. Widespread vaccinations of over 10,000 children was celebrated as one of the successes attributed to Dr. Blake during his tenure as a public health officer.

Oakland Tribune Sunday April 11, 1943
Oakland Tribune March 5, 1943

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dr. Blake died in 1944 having served as Health Commissioner up until the previous year. His last days as a public health official were spent managing the boomtown conditions of Richmond during World War II.

 

Stay tuned for more coverage on Dr. Blake and the Spanish Flu in the City of Richmond.

 

Richmond & the Spanish Flu-October 21, 1918

Richmond & the Spanish Flu

The Spanish Flu raged through the United States approximately one hundred years ago.? Like all small towns in the United States, daily life in the City of Richmond was deeply impacted by the epidemic.

We found these three articles in the museum archives from the Richmond Daily Independent dated October 21, 1918.

Just like COVID 19 today, essential workers were particularly hard hit by the Spanish Flu. The post office was no exception, the article above reporting the mail carrier and several employees had been out sick because they had contracted the disease.

The newspaper article below reported thirteen deaths in the previous 24 hours. The dead included eight males, three females and two of indeterminate gender with an age range from infant to thirty eight. Limited information about the victims are presented including occupation in some cases. The men were employed at Standard Oil Company (now Chevron), Hercules Powder Works and Wells Fargo Express. The last entry in the list is interesting because it indicates local physicians were in high demand and difficult to engage. Pinole resident Manuel Rodriguez, aged 33, died before he had the opportunity to be seen by a doctor.

The final article we have from October 21, 1918 is full of interesting facts demonstrating similarities between the Spanish Flu and COVID19. The State Board of Health issued formal guidance in local newspapers, equivalent to today’s media advisory. Restrictions to curb the spread of the Spanish Flu include social distancing, self quarantine, masks, hand washing and disinfectant. Thankfully, nurses no longer use bichloride of mercury or liquor cresol, because they’re both harmful substances. The scarcity of gauze is another interesting similarity between the modern and historical epidemics.

Introducing Richmond & the Spanish Flu

Richmond & the Spanish Flu (1918-1919)

The Spanish Flu raged through the United States approximately one hundred years ago. The country had just entered World War I and the first cases of Spanish Flu were reported at military camps in Spring 1918.

Spanish Flu Timeline from the Center for Disease Control

We dug deep into our archives to learn more about how the Spanish Flu impacted the City of Richmond. The newspaper clippings files in the RMHC archives are a trusted wealth of information about all major historical events in Richmond. The file on the Spanish Flu in Richmond includes dozens of articles dating mainly from October 1918 to January 1919. The first article in this series includes fun double meaning and references to popular culture of the time.

For the first time in the history of the City,

Richmond is a bone dry town and

for the first time too old John Barleycorn received a solar-plexus knockout

October 19, 1918, Richmond Daily Independent Newspaper.? ? ??October 18, 1918 Richmond Daily Independent Newspaper

My first response to this headline was “Ok, what?!?”

The headline is a metaphor stating the City Health Commissioner had Richmond Police closed down all the bars in Richmond. Apparently, the many saloons in Richmond had ignored the previous health department orders to shut all non-essential businesses. So heroic Dr. Blake had a police officer personally visit and close down every bar in the City of Richmond. More to come about heroic City Health Commissioner Dr. Blake later!

Let’s break down the langue in the headline. John Barleycorn refers to a historical British folk song about barley, the basis for many alcoholic drinks. Solar plexus knockout means a hard punch to the stomach, likely referring to the popularity of boxing in that period. The solar plexus is an anatomical term referring to a bundle of nerves located in the stomach.

The bars refused to abide by shelter in place and boldly remained open? Wow! How would the public have responded if that happened today?

 

Apparently, there were a lot of bars or saloons in Richmond during the early 20th Century as well. Just check out this partial list of saloons from the 1914/5 Polk’s Directory for the City of Richmond (courtesy of Internet Archive).

The second article in our archives from October 19, 1919 provides more grim details about the Spanish Flu in Richmond. Dr. Blake has closed all the schools, churches and bars, and ordered the community to wear masks in public. He states the apex (or worst) of the flu epidemic is yet to come.? A total of 96 new cases of flu have been reported and four individuals have died in a period of only 24 hours.

Local history is important because it demonstrated people have overcome adversity in the past and inspires people to be strong through their own trials. The City of Richmond has endured epidemics in the past and we will emerge from COVID19 stronger and more resilient.

We hope to bring you more notes from the archives about the Spanish Flu in the City of Richmond. Stay tuned!

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