Fighting fires, building trails, planting forests, and building construction… this is the kind of natural resource and emergency response work that young adults do when they become members of the California Conservation Corps (CCC) for a year of service.
This mural was painted in the late ’90s by members of the California Conservation Corps on the CCC Main office building at 1719 24th Street (1). The mural faces the light rail station at 24th & R and Sacramento Press quotes Susanne Levitskey, public information officer for the CCC, describing the benefits of the mural’s visibility to young people on the trains:
“The mural not only showcases corps people, but it advertises what we do here,” Levitsky said, adding that artwork like theirs has become a tradition throughout the organization in California.(2)
Artist: CCC Members
Location: 1719 24th St
The Alhambra Theater was built in 1927 and demolished nearly 50 years later in 1974 after voters rejected a bond measure that would have preserved the historic movie house (1). This mural on 26th between J & K is a remembrance of the lovely theater that once graced our city.
Wikipedia describes the Alhambra as the preeminent movie house in the greater Sacramento area during its era (2). The theater was designed in the Moorish style including a large courtyard and fountain (3).
The interior was lavishly appointed with red carpet, gold trim, and large pillars. It was located directly beyond the eastern terminus of K Street at 1025 Thirty-First Street, now Alhambra Boulevard, Sacramento, California 95816, in the East Sacramento neighborhood. (4)
When the beautiful theater was torn down, the community lost a piece of its past, and artist, Stephen Bauer, hopes that his mural reminds people of the treasures in our community and encourages people to take care of the community and their neighborhoods (5). The boy waving goodbye is a metaphor for many area residents who grew up going to the theater and experienced the loss most directly (6).
Bauer choose a fruit label postcard image for the background to reflect several elements of the history of the theater. The orange and yellow tints are indicative of the art deco-style of the theater and the entire design is also reminiscent of fruit label designs popular during that time. The citrus colors and theme also links to the old orange grove that grew on the north side of the building (7).
Bauer lives in Sacramento and is a free-lance wallpaper restorationist (8). A profile page for Bauer on the Artistic License site describes him as having “truly unique genius for historic design” (9).
While he was working on the mural, midtown residents approached him asking about his work.
“They were all excited about having that image here,” Bauer said. “A lot of younger people hadn’t seen what it looked like before.. I think the colors excited them, too. The wall before pretty much went unnoticed. I think the transformation was pretty dramatic to a lot of people.” (10).
Midtown Murals Project
The Alhambra mural was the inaugural mural to kick-off Midtown Murals Project, a non-profit organization that (at one time) planned to create 12 such community murals in Midtown “to beautify and provide a recognizable, positive identity for the area” that focuses on the “rich history, cultural diversification and natural artistic beauty” (11).
Title: Alhambra Sweet Dreams
Artist: Stephen Bauer
Location: 25th between J & K
Update August 2014: Through the persistence and effort of community members and SMAC, Sojourner has been restored and is now safely exhibited on the main floor (inside) the Crocker Art Museum.
Update 1/15/13: I am dismayed to report that the Sojourner Truth sculpture was vandalized on 1/6/13. The sculpture was pushed off of the pedestal and broke in pieces on the ground. It is still unclear whether the sculpture can be repaired but Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission and others are seeking every avenue to restore this wonderful piece. I’ve included a photo of the broken sculpture at the bottom of this post.
Nearly 7′ tall standing with dignity and a flare of her skirt, this unembellished but powerful sculpture is a testament to the woman who inspired her (1).
Sojourner Truth (1797-1883) was a former slave who escaped to freedom and became an activist contributing passionately in the fight for abolition and women’s rights (2). Among many other remarkable events of her life she was the first black person to win a court case against a white man (3), and she once bared her breasts in a meeting room to silence accusations that she was a man (accusations likely stemming from her nearly 6′ stature and non-demure manner) (4).
Through her artwork, Elizabeth Catlett (1919-2012) also spent her life fighting injustices against African Americans and women (5). Targeted during the McCarthy era for her politics, she moved to Mexico and for a period of time was denied re-entry into the U.S. (despite being a citizen) (6).
“I learned how you use your art for the service of people, struggling people, to whom only realism is meaningful.” (7)
“I have always wanted my art to service my people — to reflect us, to relate to us, to stimulate us, to make us aware of our potential.” (8)
Some of her most popular works include: Malcolm Speaks For Us, The Sharecropper, Negro Es Bello, Survivor, Dancing, Two Generations, Black is Beautiful, Latch Key Child, Madonna, The Singing Head, Recycling Nude, and The Seated Woman (9).
At age 95, she completed one of her last sculptures, a life-size bronze sculpture of gospel legend, Mahalia Jackson (10) [Side note: Sacramento is hosting its first production of the highly acclaimed show, Mahalia: A Gospel Musical, through 9/23].
I think Sojourner would be proud to have been sculpted by Catlett, her sister in truth and justice.
Below is the photo of the recently vandalized sculpture (1/15/13).
Artist: Elizabeth Catlett
Media: Mexican Limestone
Location: 13th & K
Where are we going?
What have we wrought?
How are we loving?
What have we thought?
These questions, carved in stone and almost hidden under a cascade of water, are posed by Stephen Kaltenbach on his fountain sculpture at the Sacramento Convention Center called, Time to Cast Away Stones. In my image below, you can just begin to make out the carved letters underneath the flow of water, but you can find some wonderful photos of the fountain that reveal the carved letters of the questions quite clearly on Jenny Arnez’s blog post.
Time to Cast Away Stones consists of two rectangular sculptured stone fountains, separated by a walkway and running lengthwise along the center divider of 13th Street at the entrance to the Sacramento Convention Center. The sculptures evoke Greek or Roman ruins and you can find many interesting images within the seeming jumble of stone.
Kaltenbach graduated from UCD, lived in New York where he was part of the avant-garde scene there in the late 1960s, and then moved to Sacramento to teach art at CSUS from 1970-2005 (1).
In an article titled, “Altered Ego: Sarah Lehrer-Graiwer on Stephen Kaltenbach,” the author describes some of the most interesting aspects of Kaltenbach’s uniqueness as an artist:
Kaltenbach followed what he called a protocol of opposites: Whenever he identified a structurally embedded social pattern of behavior among his artist peers, he would do the opposite….Against the idea that artists should exhibit only in galleries and museums, he committed “Street Works” in public, often unannounced, using graffiti stamps, stencils, sidewalk plaques, and disguises. (2)
Going against the grain of the art scene of keeping artistic ideas to one’s self, Kaltenbach intentionally sought to keep his creativity open and looked for opportunities to share artistic possibility with others (3). He called this spreading of influence Casual Art, and Teach Art was one element of the Casual Art principle that his role at CSUS gave him a platform to embody (4).
From November 1968 and December 1969, Kaltenbach anonymously placed twelve full-page ads, which he referred to as ‘micro-manifestos’ in Artforum. The ads consisted of mostly white-space with a few words in plain type-face text centered on the page. You can see an example of one called, “Become a legend,” in the lower right corner of this image. The twelve micro-manifestos (5):
ART WORKS. (Nov 1968)
JOHNNY APPLESEED. (Dec 1968)
ART. (Jan 1969)
Tell a lie. (Feb 1969)
Start a rumor. (March 1969)
Perpetrate a hoax. (April 1969)
Build a reputation. (May 1969)
Become a legend. (Summer 1969)
Teach Art. (Sept 1969)
Smoke. (Oct 1969)
Trip. (Nov 1969)
You are me. (Dec 1969)
“These ads are word-works that specifically targeted the Artforum audience and effectively participated in the conceptualist project to multiply doubt, but they also evidence Kaltenbach’s heightening ironic self-objectification.” (7)
Since his move from New York, his public pieces became more populist in a move that could draw criticism from the conceptual art world (8). Even as he created more realist and decorative pieces, his conceptual work continued, and as this quote describes, the strangeness of his living in both the populist and conceptual worlds is just another element of his artistic uniqueness:
“Only a playful ease with unease can yield pleasure and possibly reveal the complexity of an artist whose work is elusive on principle” (9).
Three other public art pieces by Kaltenbach can be found in Sacramento (10):
“Brazen” (1992), California State University, Sacramento
The Crocker Art Museum’s permanent collection is home to an extraordinary painting by Kaltenbach. “Portrait of My Father” is a photo-realistic painting with a scrim effect that brings an ethereal quality that “gives a little barrier between you and the subject, and the chromatic spectrum makes you think about things that are unseen but there” (11).
The Crocker describes the work as a “testament to life, love, and the loss confronting us all.” (12). In the seven years he worked with this painting, he experienced personal transformation through grief of his father’s death and dark psychedelic trips to finding faith and becoming a Christian (13).
On her blog, Jenny Arnez describes how the title of this piece reminds her of a biblical quote and the affect it had on her:
“Time to Castaway Stones” brings to mind Ecclesiastes 3:5. The New King James version says, “A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing.” The sculpture causes me to think and question not only our society’s actions but my own daily choices as well.(14)
Although I’m not familiar with the biblical reference, I had a similar experience in terms of reflecting on the four questions Kaltenbach poses for us:
Where are we going?
What have we wrought?
How are we loving?
What have we thought?
Title: Time to Cast Away Stones
Artist: Stephen J. Kaltenbach (www.stephenkaltenbach.com)
Media: Cast Cement
Location: Sacramento Convention Center, 13th & K
A stand of beautiful white-barked trees forms a soft backdrop for the Gold Rush fountain in front of the Sacramento Federal Courthouse at 501 I Street. This fountain is more than just a cascade of water; cartoonish bronze figures dot the entire plaza. Anthropomorphized animals, Native Americans, Western miners, pioneers, and even Uncle Sam, are in and around the symbolic river creating an allegorical image of the Gold Rush.
One online article referred to the sculpture as a “whimsical representation of early California history” (1). Otterness’ figures are whimsical but the piece as a whole is not simply whimsy. Like much of Otterness’ works, Gold Rush also speaks to the darker elements of the story. The plaque nearby describes that “Otterness’ intention is to prompt viewers to reevaluate certain beliefs (and myths) about American history.”
While designing a different piece for the bankruptcy court in Sacramento, Otterness, faced criticism from a judge regarding his initial design — a chess board with 6′ tall chess pieces in the form of money bags (2). The article by Pranay Gupte quotes the judge saying: “Forget it. The last thing that anyone wants to see outside a bankruptcy court is a radical economic critique.” (3) Otterness worked with the feedback and his design evolved. He described this process as “a kind of surrealistic collaboration with a very conservative judge” and said the process taught him “that when it comes to public art, you need to work closely with local officials and others who understand the environment, the local culture.” (4)
Otterness’ public art work appears across the US, Canada, and worldwide (5). One of his best known works is, Life Underground, that includes more than 100 different pieces scattered throughout subway stations in NYC. Otterness described the subject of Life Underground as “the impossibility of understanding life in New York” (6).
“His style is often described as cartoonish and cheerful but tends to carry a political punch. His sculptures are filled with multiple meanings and allude to sex, class, money and race.” (7)
Controversy surrounds Otterness an awful act of animal cruelty that he did as art in 1977 (8). He issued an apology but it is a disturbing fact of his history.
I like this quote from Otterness about how he wants us engage with his work:
My work is really social commentary….I want people to touch these sculptures, to discuss them, to argue about them, to find in them whatever meaning they might draw from my work. Not everything in my work is explainable, of course. But that’s good, too. It’s sometimes good to leave people somewhat puzzled. The important thing is that they touch my sculptures, and talk about them.(9)
The plauqe reads:
A native of Wichita, Kansas, sculptor Tom Otterness is known for creating bronze and cast stone scupltures. Most of his work utilizes allegorical human and anthropomorphic animal figures. Otterness includes humorous elements in much of his work, even when dealing with serious social or political subjects. For the Sacramento Courthouse, artist Otterness created an assortment of knee-high characters reminiscent of California’s early history – animals and fish, native Americans and pioneers. He choose to position his whimsical yet enigmatic figures along the plaza’s fountain, which serves as a reminder of the significant role the Sacramento River and other waterways have played in the history of the state. Using the Gold Rush as his theme, Otterness worked both with and against the artistic traditions of the American West, especially the sculptor Frederick Remington. With the familiar cast of characters, Otterness’ intention is to prompt viewers to reevaluate certain beliefs (and myths) about American history.
Title: Gold Rush
Artist: Tom Otterness (www.tomostudio.com)
Media: Cast Bronze Sculptures
Location: Sacramento Federal Courthouse, 501 I Street
Bob the Dog is featured in this mural on the alley side of the Capitol Physical Therapy building off 28th Street between N & Capitol. “Bob” is Rod Larson-Swenson’s signature character and has appeared in countless of his paintings (1). In this News & Review article, he describes how Bob came about:
“When I first painted Bob,” said Swenson, “I had a real bad day. I was frustrated and I just scrubbed out a big painting and because I had spent my whole day painting and came up with nothing, and just in frustration I just scrawled this dumb dog. Someone walked in the studio within two days and bought it. A friend of mine named it, he said, ‘Well, it looks like Bob the Dog to me.’ ” (2)
Swenson started painting in 1970 when his eldest daughter was born. He said that having his daughter “suddenly made me feel like an adult and I could do what I wanted, even if it was crappy. It didn’t matter. So I started painting in 1970 and I just never stopped.” (3).
He continued his day job with the Post office for 20 more years but then retired to paint full-time and now lives with his wife in Asia:
In 1990, Rod Larson-Swenson quit his job with the U.S. Postal Service in Oakland, moved to Sacramento and began full-time work as an artist. Sacramentans know him best, perhaps, for his otherworldly “Bob the Dog” paintings and murals, which at one time enlivened at least three buildings in midtown and North Sacramento. In 1996, Larson-Swenson and his wife, LizAnn, left Sacramento for Taiwan, and in 1999 they moved once more—to the Yunnan Province in the People’s Republic of China, where she teaches English and he paints. (4)
I had lots of great mentors, a vast community of people who were working at art. Some were teaching; some were just barely managing. We were bound together by our love of painting and the presumption that we could do it and that it mattered. I owe everything to that community. They are as important as the work itself. (5)
In another quote in the Sacramento Magazine article, it sounds like the way he is drawn to people and community have drawn him to love where he lives now:
To my surprise, I found that I loved living in Asia. In the United States, we live a very internal, contained life. We are always in our cars or our homes or our workplaces. The sidewalks tend to be empty. In China, the sidewalks are packed with people in all conditions employing every conceivable means of transport. It’s a fantastic jumble of humanity. (6)
Title: Wade in the Water
Artist: Rod Larson-Swenson
Location: Alley side of Capitol Physical Therapy building, 1308 28th Street