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CA city to paint over school’s 83-year-old George Washington mural

George Washington High School in San Francisco, Calif. (Sandra Cohen-Rose and Colin Rose/Flickr)
July 05, 2019

An 83-year-old historical mural of George Washington in a California public school will now be removed for being racist and demeaning toward minorities.

The 1,600-square foot historical artwork at George Washington High School in San Francisco includes images of George Washington among other white pioneers, with one scene depicting a dead Native American, and another depicting slaves at his Mount Vernon estate AP News reported.

The decision to paint over it was made last week during a heated debate after recent discussions of slavery.

It will cost the city around $600,000 to paint over the 13-panel mural at George Washington High School due to legal and environmental challenges. This particular mural is a fresco –a plaster-based painting process — and removal of it will take time.

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The school board plans to cover the mural in the event of any issues while the plans for removal are pending.

Mark Sanchez, vice president of the school board said, “Painting it over represents not only a symbolic fresh start, but a real fresh start.”

“I understand the importance of art, and it should be the last thing we do, to attempt to cover any kind of art up. The starting point has to be from those who feel they are harmed and how that is unacceptable, especially given the history of this country. When we don’t listen, we don’t learn,” Sanchez added.

Lope Yap, Jr., vice president of the Washington High School Alumni Association, opposes removing the artwork, saying it is “treasures, priceless art.” Yap was a graduate of the school in the 1970s and considered the mural to be a critique of U.S. history.

“I’m not into censorship. I would want to deal with history so we can prevent this from ever happening again,” Yap added.

The artwork, titled the “Life of Washington,” was painted by Russian-born Victor Arnautoff, one of the top mural artists in the region during the Depression. He was hired by the Federal Art Project funds as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal program.

Harvey Smith, president of the National New Deal Preservation Association said, “Victor Arnautoff was far ahead of his time, and we have yet to catch up with him in terms of making school curriculum more inclusive and historically accurate.”

“The mural is an immense public treasure during one of the few periods of American history where you had the federal government supporting public art, public spaces, public goods. It’s been the right that has always attacked the New Deal with its social programs,” Smith added.

Walker proposes “covering the mural and requiring freshmen to take a course on slavery and California’s role in subjugating Native Americans,” AP News stated.

Richard Walker, a professor emeritus of geography at the University of California, Berkeley and director of the history project, Living New Deal said, “We on the left ought to welcome the honest portrayal.” He added that erasing the mural “is the worst way we can deal with historic malfeasance, historic evils.”