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Looking For Elusive New Deal Art

Work by Ben Cunningham, Ukiah Post Office muralist

Determined to see another example of mural art by Ben Cunningham, the artist who painted the mural in the Ukiah Post Office, I trekked to Coit Tower in San Francisco. There, my Internet research assured me, was another example of Ben’s art, a mural entitled “Outdoor Life.” No mention of the fact on the Internet that the nine by twenty-two foot mural is off limits to the public.

To see a photo of the mural I bought an expensive but beautiful book, Coit Tower San Francisco: Its History and Art, by Masha Zakheim, photos by Don Beatty. Searching the Internet for a good picture of Ben’s mural turned up only a tiny detail here.

Fortunately I had not planned the whole day around Ben Cunningham or Coit Tower. Because much of the inspiration for the Coit Tower murals came from Diego Rivera, it seemed like a good idea to see one.

Second stop was the City College of San Francisco to find the Diego Rivera mural “The Marriage of the Artistic Expression of the North and of the South on this Continent,” a.k.a. the Pan American Unity Mural. The mural nearly eluded my friend Christine and me when we found a sign on the door informing us that the docent who normally shows the mural had been injured in a bicycle accident that very day and was home nursing his wounds.  No docent, no viewing. When I explained to a sympathetic person in the Creative Arts Department that Christine and I had come especially to see the mural, she unlocked the door and chatted with us for several minutes while we tried to take in the huge 5-panel installation. Flagging just a bit, we needed a break so we found a coffee shop and had truly terrible piroshkies and tea. Then, using Google Directions, we took two buses to get to the Western end of Golden Gate Park .

The mysterious Ben Cunningham, it turns out, is included in a grand display of New Deal murals in the Beach Chalet. There, after finding Ben (picture above) depicted among the figures of the San Francisco public works scene of the 1930’s, we enjoyed the ocean view replete with kite surfers skimming the very choppy surf and sipped some delicious beer. All in all, a perfect day in San Francisco.

A link to more photos, including the gardens and statuary along the steps leading up Telegraph Hill to Coit Tower, details of Murals there and of the Diego Rivera Mural, plus murals from the first floor of the Beach Chalet is here.

Other links:

Coit Tower

Online Nevada Encyclopedia entry for Ben Cunningham

Diego Rivera’s mural at CCSF

Beach Chalet

This post originally appeared at Ukiah Community Blog.

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