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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No Controversy About This Once Missing Arnautoff Mural

No Controversy About This Once Missing Arnautoff Mural

While controversy continues about one famous artist?s mural at a San Francisco high school, an East Bay museum is determined to restore another valuable work by the same person.

The Richmond Museum of History unearthed the mural, ?Richmond an Industrial City? by artist Victor Arnautoff in 2014.? It had hung in the Richmond Post office from 1941 until 1976 when mural was taken down due to remodeling. ?Decades passed, the crate went missing, and mural was eventually declared lost.

Now the Museum has scheduled a gala for September 12 with a silent auction at 5:30 p.m. and dinner at 7 p.m. at the Rockefeller Lodge, 2650 Market Ave. in San Pablo. Proceeds from the fundraiser will be used to restore the mural.

?This is a compelling work that captures the diversity of Richmond, a blue collar community,? says Melinda McCrary, the Museum?s Executive Director. ?A wide range of occupations, ethnicities and scenery demonstrate what life was like in those days. Richmond was working class American community.?

When Arnautoff painted the mural, he was one of the most prominent and influential members of San Francisco?s ?arts community. Between 1932 and 1942, he completed 11public murals, the best known of which is City Life (1934) at Coit Tower in San Francisco. The Richmond Post Office mural was Arnautoff’s last mural of this size and the first time since Coit Tower that he chose to depict a mix of city people going about their daily tasks.. His mural presents life in Richmond as of 1941?when war was on the horizon.? An image of the mural is on the Museum?s website.

?We are looking at this event not only as a way to raise funds to restore the mural but also a celebration of a work of art that was created especially for Richmond.? It is an extraordinary honor and we hope the community will help,? says McCrary.

Tickets for the event can be purchased at https://richmondmuseum.org/event/2019dinner/

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Arnautoff Mural

Arnatouff Mural_1

In 2014, the staff at the Richmond Museum of History learned from longtime member Fran Cappelletti that a mural had once graced the post office lobby. ?Richmond Industrial City,? created by Victor Arnautoff commissioned by the U.S. Treasury Section of Fine Arts, had been installed at the downtown post office in April 1941. A prot?g? of Diego Rivera, Arnautoff, a prominent figure in New Deal art, is perhaps best known for his role as the artistic director of the extensive murals at Coit Tower in nearby San Francisco.

Records show that when the post office lobby was remodeled in 1976, the 13?4? x 6?6? mural depicting prominent people and places in Richmond was carefully removed by art conservator Nathan Zakheim, the son of another renowned New Deal artist, Bernard Zakeim. It was believed to be stored in the building?s basement. A janitor for the post office investigated and found a huge triangular crate in an unlit room, the label clearly identifying it as the missing mural. It has been forgotten for nearly four decades.

As museum staff worked for months to gain permission from the local USPS authorities to take possession of the crate and have it opened by a conservator, the post office was closed due to flooding in the basement. That led to the crate being moved six blocks to the history museum where it was opened it. The crate showed a distinct water line. There was a collective sigh of relief when, upon opening the crate, it was revealed that Zakheim, the conservator, had built the tube to hold the canvas on 6? high stilts. The oil-on-canvas was dry and in overall good condition.

Be a part of this exciting project to restore the Richmond Industrial History mural! As you could expect, art restoration is costly and this ambitious project will be made possible through the committed support of donors at all levels. Museum staff have already raised more than half the necessary funds to restore and hang the mural. Please make a donation to bring the Richmond Industrial City back to the public for the first time in over 40 years

Richmond: Industrial City is art made by the people, for the people, of the people and is now being restored with the help of the people.