Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles

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Volume 9, Number 4 -- Summer, 1999


by Bill Lasarow

In a potentially significant shift in emphasis, the Mural Conservancy has now launched a network of neighborhood ‘Mural Observers’ as a core component of the Mural Maintenance Program (MMP). Under the program an initial selection of more than twenty ‘Neighborhood Leaders’ will help oversee a network of local volunteers who will keep an eye on about 400 murals to start. The volunteers’ ongoing observation of these murals will afford an ongoing assessment of their condition. This will serve as the basis for broader technical support for more murals than presently exists under the Mural Rescue Program (MRP).

For the better part of this decade MCLA has placed much of it’s resources into building a portfolio of protected murals under the MRP. About twenty carefully selected murals have been cleaned and protected from graffiti under the MRP. For a variety of reasons--including flattening of funding support and recent problems with government agencies such as CalTrans painting over certain murals--the MRP has slowed addition of new murals under its protective umbrella during the last two years.

In addition, the MCLA Board recently committed itself to a direction that would provide greater opportunities for volunteer participation, inherently limited by the number of murals covered by the MRP. Consistent with MCLA’s mission, the MMP attempts to provide an answer to both issues.

How it works
The Maintenance Committee, lead by MCLA Board members Art Mortimer, Mark Bowerman and Ernesto de la Loza has, in a series of open meetings attended by a number of mostly artists since the end of last year, formulated a network of ongoing Mural Observers armed with specific mural assignments and instructions. Supplied with an Inspection Request Form the volunteer Mural Observer works with the Neighborhood Leader to report to the Maintenance Committee any problems afflicting an individual mural.

The Committee has supplied the twenty or so Neighborhood Leaders with a selection of 10-25 individual mural description sheets located near them. An area map, a set of Maintenance Volunteer Instructions, and some Inspection Request Forms provide each Observer with everything they need to provide informed feedback about the murals they select to keep an eye on.

Mural Observers review the murals in their neighborhood with the new volunteer, all within walking distance of or a very short drive from home, and the volunteer selects a group of 4-6 of these murals to be “theirs.” The process here is casual; after making an initial inspection (right here a number of murals already suffering some degree of damage will undoubtably be identified) the Observer will then be in a position to report on changes in a mural’s condition pretty much as they occur.

Up to this point the most promising thing is the sheer number of people who can take an active hand in guaranteeing the long-term viability of a significant number of public murals. The inevitable question, assuming the willingness of volunteers to help in this way, is that as a body of murals requiring one sort of help or another is assessed, how will this be dealt with?

Dealing with mural maintenance
MCLA’s Board has no illusions that simply because a number of murals’ condition problems are identified that all public murals will therefore be successfully maintained. How individual cases are handled will vary according to available funding, the interest of community volunteers, the exact nature of the problem, as well as the mural’s merit.

Even in the case of murals that are not actually conserved, the act of documenting specific conditions over time will contribute invaluable data. Not only will this help to further define the universe of conservation issues that they face, this information will help conservation professionals sharpen their ability to anticipate them before they occur. Ideally, of course, MCLA would be able to protect all of these murals, but of course in the real world this depends on the motivation of a lot of people as well as the availability of funding. And some murals will simply not be rescuable.

Once a mural’s condition has been reported to the Maintenance Committee a process begins that results in a recommendation. The Committee may invite volunteers to work at a mural site to correct a problem. Or the artist may be presented with a professional inspection report, but the work left up to him or her. Or MCLA may provide the artist with the cost of materials. And in select cases a mural may be included in the MRP and receive ongoing preservation support.
Much of this is new territory, with the promise of generating more suppport for more murals than has been possible in the past. But hand-in-hand with this there is the likelihood that new issues and problems will be raised in the course of doing this. What is quite clear is that MCLA Board’s willingness to bring on whatever consequences follow from involving more people in supporting more murals.


Mark Bowerman, "Running", Hollywood Freeway at the Western Ave. bus turnout.
East Los Streetscapers, "El Corrido de Boyle Heights", East L.A. at Soto St. and Brooklyn Ave.
Kent Twitchell, "Seventh Street Altarpiece: Jim Morphesis", Harbor Freeway, 7th St. underpass.
Kent Twitchell, "Seventh Street Altarpiece: Lita Albuquerque", Harbor Freeway, 7th St. underpass.
Chicana Center Artists, "Tree of Knowledge", East L.A. at Brooklyn and Hazard.
Frank Romero, "Going to the Olympics", Hollywood Freeway west of Alameda St. underpass.
Alonzo Davis, "Eye on '84", Harbor Freeway, at 3rd St. ramp.
Margaret Garcia, "Two Blue Whales", Venice at 12901 Venice Bl.
David Botello, "Read Between the Lines", East L.A. at Olympic Blvd. and Ford.
Kent Twitchell, "Strother Martin", East Hollywood at Kingsley Dr. and Fountain Ave.
Noa Bornstein, "Magritte in Los Angeles", Inglewood at Imperial Hwy and La Cienega Blvd.
Judith von Euer, "Flow Inversion", 100 N. Fremont, east facing outer wall of the Harbor Freeway at First St.
Annie Sperling, "Mural for Peace", Silverlake at Hyperion St. and Sunset Blvd.
Russell Carlton, "Heavenly Garden of Knowlege", Santa Monica Freeway west of the National Blvd. exit.
Thomas Suriya, "You Are the Star", downtown Hollywood on Wilcox, south of Hollywood Blvd.
John Wehrle, "Galileo, Jupiter, Apollo", downtown L.A., on the Hollywood Freeway slot, at Spring St.
Rip Cronk, "Venice Reconstituted", Venice, 25 Windward Ave.
Mario Torero, Rocky, El Lton and Zade, "We Are Not a Minority", East L.A. at 3217 E. Olympic Blvd.
Wayne Healy, "Ghosts of the Barrio", Ramona Gardens, East L.A. at Building 2731-37 Lancaster Ave. near Murchison.
Rueben Brucelyn, “Eyes”, Glendale Blvd. at the Sunset Blvd. underpass, Echo Park.




by Art Mortimer


Kent Twitchell with the
re-emerging Lillian Bronson at
the end of the first restoration
session for the “Freeway Lady”.
The black background is freshly painted; all else is the rescued


On Saturday, January 23rd, and again on Saturday, April 25th, muralist Kent Twitchell, art conservator Nathan Zakheim, and a group of Kent’s friends and MCLA volunteers, including myself, descended on the Prince Hotel just off the Hollywood Freeway near downtown L.A. We were there to start the restoration process on what was arguably the most famous mural in Los Angeles until it was unceremoniously painted over by the building’s owner back in 1986.

Armed with heat guns, spatulas, ladders and extension cords, we began the laborious process of removing the overlay of white paint and lovingly bringing the “Freeway Lady” back to life. Nathan Zakheim and Kent had already made two earlier attempts at removing the covering--uncovering the eyes the first time, and the nose and mouth the second time.

What they had discovered in their first session several years ago was that, although the white covering resisted most chemical means of softening and removing it, because Kent had coated the mural with a layer of clear acrylic medium when he finished it, it was possible to use heat guns to soften and lift off the overlaying applications of paint. This was happening apparently because the clear acrylic medium melts at a lower temperature than the underlying pigmented acrylic paint; thus this clear layer softens and melts before the mural paint underneath has a chance to melt.


The volunteers soon found out that it requires a practiced hand with a heat gun and deft handling of a pair of spatulas to lift off the paint in any sizable amounts without damaging the mural. Also, the mural paint underneath was definitely fragile and thin in places, so although we were able to remove a lot of the overlying white, in places it was stuck too solidly to remove, and in other places it brought pieces of the mural away with it.

Graffiti that had been on top of the mural before it was whitewashed was also encountered, and it proved resistant to heat. However the graffiti did yield, for the most part, to Nathan’s expert applications of a variety of anti-graffiti products and solvents after the heat gun and spatula teams had cleaned off an area as best they could.

We found through trial and error that we were only able to peel off the white paint effectively in areas where the white paint overlay was thick enough to make a strong film that could be grabbed and pulled with spatulas without breaking or tearing—much like peeling off dead skin in sheets after a bad sunburn. As most of us know, a mild sunburn produces a layer of skin too thin to peel effectively; it is thin and weak and tears too easily to pull off large sections. A bad sunburn can make for some real substantial peeling, coming off in big sheets much to the delight of whoever is doing the peeling.



This was much what we found on the mural: in some areas, peeling went rather quickly and efficiently, while in other areas it was laborious and very slow. We also found that the white paint was really only thick enough to peel across the bottom half of the mural. Apparently the whitewashed wall became a target for taggers and had been repainted many times up to about the 7- or 8-foot level. Above that height, the white paint layer was too thin to allow peeling to work.

Ever resourceful, the artist, conservator and volunteers put their heads together to figure out ways to move ahead in spite of these obstacles. It



was decided we were not going to try to peel over the background areas of the mural. Since these areas were originally just solid black, Kent decided just to paint fresh black acrylic paint on top of the existing white. Also, it was decided just to peel as much as could be readily peeled in the first session; we would rethink our strategy for difficult areas after taking some time to assess and evaluate our experiences of this day.

In areas where the white paint was too thin, we decided to add additional layers of white paint to build it up and make it thick enough to be peeled. One or two of these layers were added to various sections during this session, others at later dates. Kent also decided that he would paint a new moon image in his studio and glue it on top of the old one, since the old one was badly damaged by graffiti. He said he had recently found his original cartoon of the moon and that it would be a simple matter to make a new one.

The two areas that had been cleaned off previously--the eyes in the first session, and the nose and mouth in the second--had been recovered with white paint after they were cleaned off, so they had to be cleaned again. This single layer of white paint over these areas was too thin to allow peeling, so Nathan attacked it with his arsenal of cleaners and solvents. The eyes had been painted over again by the building owner without any intervening layer of clear acrylic to protect them, so it was very difficult to get paint off this area. Nathan and MCLA volunteer Jim Kenney were fairly successful, however; the eyes can once again be seen, but they are partially under a film of white paint that could not be completely removed.

But the nose and mouth had been given a coat of Soluvar, a clear solvent-based acrylic coating, before they were painted out again, and this allowed the white paint to be cleaned off fairly readily under Nathan’s persistent applications of just the right cleaner or solvent to soften one layer without damaging the layer underneath. It was fascinating to watch his at first seemingly fruitless attacks gradually reveal the stunning beauty of Kent’s painting.

With the revealing of the eyes, nose and mouth, the somewhat random-seeming patches that we had peeled off earlier suddenly coalesced into the long-obscured image of the “Freeway Lady.” And as Kent painted the black around the outline of her hair and shawl, we could all see that she was really back. There she was!

It had been a long day of hot, grueling work at times (not to mention answering all those pesky reporters’ questions), but there was the payoff! What a thrill to be able to bring back one of L.A.’s finest and best loved landmarks from complete oblivion! Of course the job not yet complete, but at least she is back. Her enigmatic (and temporarily somewhat clouded) gaze is once more scrutinizing northbound travelers on the Hollywood Freeway, perhaps reminding them of their own mothers or grandmothers.

Kent is always busy with new commission work. Two mural monuments of Will Rogers are near completion at the California Theatre in San Bernardino; and a trio of family subjects are going up at the Hillside Memorial Park in Culver City. In between he’s managed to work directly with the volunteer group on the “Freeway Lady” at both January and April sessions.



Passing of Helen Lundeberg, Eva Cockroft, Tim Fields and Russ Carlton within six month period

Symbolizing the connection of the past to the present, the mural movement in Los Angeles lost one of its most important historical exponents of modernism, one of its strongest links to the politically rooted mural work of the 1960s and ‘70s, and two productive and promising younger artists.



According to Robin Dunitz’ account in “Street Gallery,” Russell Carlton hailed “originally from the Midwest by way of Arizona, Carlton lived in Los Angeles for about 10 years. In addition to being a painter, he was a marble sculptor and a graphic artist.” A victim of AIDS, Carlton’s two stylized and symbolic murals were used to help raise funds for Aids Project Los Angeles.


Russell Carlton, “Unto Ye Heavenly Garden of Knowledge”, on the Santa Monica Freeway in West Los Angeles, 1993.

Helen Lundeberg’s mural work was a product of the 1930’s and ‘40s government public art programs. Together with her husband Lorser Feitelson she played a crucial, pioneering role in the establishment of international modernism in Los Angeles beginning in the 1930’s. Her more than sixty-year career placed her near the front rank of Los Angeles’ art history. Excerpted from a 1995 essay by Tobey Moss:


“In the beginning, 1930, Lundeberg was a promising student at the Stickney School in Pasadena. Lorser Feitelson, her teacher and, eventually, her husband, directed her to think of herself as an artist.
“Her first one-person show [was] in 1933 at the Stanley Rose Gallery in Hollywood. By 1934 she and Feitelson co-founded "Post-Surrealism" and she wrote the "manifesto" for the first Post-Surrealism exhibition at the Centaur Gallery, Hollywood.



“When the WPA/FAP followed other government-sponsored programs for public art, Lundeberg applied and was assigned to the prints division and then to the mural division where she designed, painted and coor-dinated the team-painting of numerous murals in schools, federal and other public buildings. She also created the largest petrachrome mural-wall (8 feet high and 24l feet long) for Centinela Park in Inglewood, California.”


Helen Lundeberg, “History of Transpor-tation” in Centinela Park, Inglewood, 1941.



Eva Cockroft was a rare and exceptionally productive multi-talented artist who not only created notable murals but wrote cogently about them from a critical perspective. In an obituary article Daniel del Solar wrote:
“Eva S. Cockcroft passed away on April 1, 1999 after a courageous battle with breast cancer. Born in Vienna, Austria, she came as an infant to the United States when her physician parents sought refuge from Nazi tyranny. A graduate of Cornell University and Rutgers University, she became a prominent visual artist during the activist era of the late 1960's.
“Her large scale murals in New York, Los Angeles, Long Beach, Germany, Nicaragua and elsewhere reflected her lifelong commitment to a consistent moral vision in art. Her last mural, "Homage to Siqueiros," was a reconstruction of Siqueiros's "America Tropical," whitewashed in Los Angeles in 1938. Her large body of paintings and drawings, regularly exhibited in individual



and group shows, also expressed her powerful contribution to the tradition of socially conscious figurative art.

Eva Cockroft with her final mural, “Homage to Siqueiros” at Self-Help Graphics East L.A. location in 1999.


“During her final illness, she produced artworks about breast cancer in order to raise public consciousness about this devastating disease. A writer as well as an artist, she was the co-author of "Towards A People's Art: The Contemporary Mural Movement," published in a second edition in 1998. Her articles, which appeared in such leading art journals as Artforum and Art in America, are widely recognized as seminal contributions to mid- to late-20th century art criticism. She also taught art history and studio art at CSU Long Beach, UCLA, and UC Irvine.”

Tim Fields combined the role of artist and teacher in energentically producing numerous murals with the assistance of mostly underprivileged children for the better part of this decade. From an L.A. Times article by Elaine Woo on Fields’ shocking sudden death:

“Tim Fields, a Los Angeles artist who worked with schoolchildren to create 53 murals around the city, has died. He was 35 and died March 9 at his home of a respiratory infection.

“A graduate of Illinois State University, Fields worked with many troubled youths and believed in the redeeming value of art. ‘Young people just need a chance, some understanding and something to take pride in,’ he said. . .

“Fields arrived in Los Angeles from Chicago in 1986. He organized his first group mural project in 1991 at the Los Angeles Youth Network, a shelter for teenage runaways in Hollywood. Other murals followed.

Gloria Gold, who runs the Halcyon Center [in North Hollywood], said Fields was a warm and comical figure with a mass of curly blond hair who usually wore the paint-splattered rags of his trade. She said he had a knack for communicating with children, many of whom were as young as five.

According to Gold. . .Fields often told the children that he became an artist by copying characters from comic books. ‘He would say, ‘I copied them over and over again, and if you really want to, you can do it too.” He was a wonderful inspiration.’”





Eva Cockroft, “Homage to Siqueiros” at Self-Help Graphics East L.A.




The following new murals were completed through July. If you want your public to know about your newest mural, please send the information, along with a picture if possible, to Robin Dunitz, PO Box 5483, Sherman Oaks, CA 91413. Or you can call (818) 487-0416

John Valadez, “We the People: Summer Festivals of Orange County” (1998), Ronald Reagan Federal Bldg. and U.S. Courthouse, interior lobby, Santa Ana. Valadez was assisted by Genaro "Jerry" Lopez, Francisco Siqueiros, Howard Spezia, Sadie Valadez and Carlo Valadez, and installer Giles Guggemons, Inc. of St. Paul, MN. Acrylic on canvas, 15' x 70'.
Painted in seven panels over two years, the mural celebrates the diverse peoples of Orange County coming together in a parade that includes historical as well as contemporary figures. Before beginning the artist spent a year attending festivals throughout the county. Some of the mural's elements were inspired by historical photos, including one seated group that represents the founders of the local historical society.

Eva Cockcroft and Alessandra Moctezuma, “Homage to Siqueiros”, (1998), Self-Help Graphics, exterior, Avenida Cesar Chavez at Gage, Boyle Heights, acrylic, the artists were assisted by Gabriel Galán, Jaime "Vyal" Reyes, Silvana Paredes, Chris Pizano, Daniel and Miriam del Solar, and title lettering by Chaz Bojorquez.
The central image is a re-creation of the famous Olvera Street mural, "Tropical America," by Mexican master, David Alfaro Siqueiros, originally painted in 1932 and whitewashed by city officials in 1938 because of its militant anti-capitalist imagery.

East Los Streetscapers, “Cosmic Flight Paths”, (1998), Ontario International Airport, Terminal 4, Ontario, terrazzo floor.

Tim Fields, “Quetzalcoatl”, (1998), Gardner Street Elementary School, Hollywood, Fields assisted by 45 K-5th graders.


Tim Fields, “Shelf Life”, (1998),
Osborne Middle School, Pico Rivera,
Fields assisted by volunteers.



Tim Fields, “Swingin' Sky” (1998), Little Red School House, play area, Hollywood, Fields assisted by students.

Tim Fields, “Playin' Around”, (1998), Chernow House, Boyle Heights, Fields assisted by volunteers.

Tim Fields, Untitled, (1998), L.A. County Dept. of Children and Family Services, 12020 Chandler Blvd., North Hollywood, Fields assisted by children.

Tim Fields, “Sky High”, (1999), Wilton Place Elementary School, Mid-City L.A., Fields and volunteers, including Governor Gray Davis.

Dave Talbot, “Sunday”, (1999), Santa Monica Bistro, 2301 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica, acrylic, 15' x 12'.

Gifford Myers, “Einstein and Beyond”, (1998), Intervale Senior Services, Pasadena.
The mural is based on a photo of Einstein riding a bicycle, and was taken while he was consulting at Cal Tech. Also incorporated into the mural are windows showing Pasadena past and present.

Terry Schoonhoven, “Jewish Contributions to Medicine”, (1999), Cedars-Sinai Medical Center Auditorium, 8700 Beverly Blvd., West Hollywood, 12' x 71'. The mural was sponsored by former Board Chairman Joseph Mitchell and his wife Beverly and donated to Cedars-Sinai.
Depicts 42 major concepts and physicians from Biblical times to the present.

Eliseo Art Silva, “Beyond the Water of Dreams” (1999), Normandie Village Apartments, Normandie and Melrose, East Hollywood.
This mural was inspired by the legendary hero from the Armenian epic, David of Sasoun. On the largest panel, children have written their dreams on the sand. Outside a Freedom Ring, made up of tapestries from different countries, celebrates the struggle for freedom and independence around the world. It also commemorates the day in 1898 when Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo declared the independence of the Philippines from the balcony of his home.

ManOne, Vyal, CTI, and others, Untitled spraycan pieces (2), Lankershim Boulevard just north of Victory, North Hollywood, aerosol, approximately 15' x 60' (each).
One wall is mostly large characters. The other wall is lettering.




The Mural Conservancy’s efforts to create a substantial online informational resource received an important boost last year when the L.A. County Arts Commission awarded MCLA with a two-year grant for that expressed purpose. With the first year completed, the first phase of significant upgrades are now revealed: complete interlinking between mural pages and muralist pages; a new home page look (above); and a storefront.

The new storefront (prepared but not launched at press time, it may well be up as you read this) enables MCLA to sell memberships, mural gift items, and tickets to mural bus tours directly over the Web, allowing for secure credit card transactions. With a promotional boost, assisted by the second year of the grant, an increase in MCLA’s earned revenue base is hoped for.

The new home page design gives visitors a great first impression as well as direct linking access to all of the important sections into which the site is organized. Credit goes to DNA Studios in West Hollywood for their design and programming work on both the storefront and the home page.

Most important in terms of the site’s value as a mural informational resource, all public murals on record through 1997 and into 1998 have their own page online, and all artists responsible for them (almost 550 of them) receive their own page as well, complete with mural credits and links to the murals’ pages.

If you haven’t visited the MCLA Web site before, or if it’s been awhile, get your modem fired up and check out this new content. And let us know what you think!

Bill Lasarow