June 23, 2022

CHANGE: Post-recall San Francisco school board rescinds vote to cover controversial Washington High mural.

The 1936 fresco, painted on wet plaster, is the work of Russian artist Victor Arnautoff, and part of the Works Progress Administration public art program under President Roosevelt’s New Deal employment projects. The 1,600-square-foot “Life of Washington” mural features multiple panels with scenes from the life of the first president.

According to Wikipedia:

Arnautoff taught sculpture and fresco painting privately and at the California School of Fine Arts, first during summer sessions and as a regular instructor beginning in 1936. He taught art at Stanford University from 1938 to 1962. Beginning in 1947, he also taught art courses at the California Labor School, including printmaking. At Stanford, Richard Diebenkorn was one of his students; Diebenkorn considered Arnautoff a mentor and admired his intellectual and political stances.

Beginning with his association with [Diego] Rivera, Arnautoff’s political views moved to the left, and he joined the Communist Party[5] as well as the American Artists’ Congress and the San Francisco Artists and Writers Union. His style was generally more subtle than Rivera’s and other social realists, but his politics were nevertheless reflected in his work, which has been described as being part of a mural arts movement that “hoped to inspire change through criticism of the present political system”.

In 1955, an Arnautoff lithograph titled “DIX McSmear”, associating Vice President Richard Nixon with McCarthyism, created controversy. As a result, there were calls for Stanford to dismiss him. The lithograph was then used as the cover for an issue of The Nation. After he was interrogated by a House Unamerican Activities Committee subcommittee, there were again calls for Stanford to dismiss him. However, the faculty committee that reviewed his case declined to make such a recommendation to the president, and Arnautoff remained a faculty member.

So a Nation Magazine-approved future Communist (who later returned to the Soviet Union and died in Leningrad) employed by the Roosevelt Administration who eventually drew an anti-Nixon illustration titled “DIX McSmear” was considered too conservative for the San Fransisco School Board, circa 2019?

UPDATE: More change: San Francisco School Board Votes to Return Elite High School to Merit-Based Admissions.

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