Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Socialist Realism in Frisco's Coit Tower, Telegraph Hill: The Art of Bernard Zakheim

That's my attempt at a reasonable photograph of Bernard Zakheim's "The Library," one of the murals in San Francisco's Coit Tower, where I popped in for a look-see the other day. Zakheim was one of 25 New Deal artists who completed the tower's murals in 1934, while the city was in the throes of a violent waterfront strike.
Zakheim was an interesting bloke. That's him in the mural, seated on the upper left, reading a Hebrew text (you'll want to click on the picture to get the details). The guy reaching for Karl Marx just to the right of the window is the socialist artist John Langley Howard.
See those gents reading newspapers on the right? The guy in the upper portion reading about "The Destruction of Rivera's Fresco" is Zakheim's friend Ralph Stackpole. Reading the newspaper with the headline "B. Bufano's St. Francis Just Around The Corner" is the sculptor Beniamino Bufano, a radical who chopped off his trigger finger and mailed it to President Woodrow Wilson to protest the White House decision to participate in the First World War.


Blogger The Contentious Centrist said...

Interesting mural. I can't help but compare it to the more recent mural coming out of San Francisco.

The details you provide are fascinating, in particular the anti-war imagery (the window shape), the self-mutilation as anti-war protest. I suppose he really was anti-war, not just anti a particular war...

BTW, the three volumes lying on the top window shelf represent the three books of the Hebrew Bible: Torah, Nevi'im (the prophets), Ketuvim (the writings). Nevi'im, the middle volume, as far as I can see, is spelled incorrectly. That is, the "aleph" is absent. Maybe he didn't have enough space for the whole word. It doesn't seem likely that he got it wrong, since he was educated in a chassidic family.

If the underlying message is study and read, do not make war, then the choice of highlighting the Bible, which is full of war stories, is either an ironic comment or some other interpretation.

I'm reminded of the story of Arian bishop Ulfilas (311-382), leader of Visigothic Christians what is now Bulgaria/Romania. He translated the Greek Bible into the Gothic language, but omitted to translate the 2 books of Kings because they were full of war stories. He was afraid that the valiant stories of battles would excite his people who had a warrior disposition, to make war.

Thanks for sharing.

3:11 PM  
Blogger Transmontanus said...

Thankyou back, Noga. I read somewhere that the book Zakheim is reading in the painting is the Tanach. And of John Langley Howard I read, "When war began in 1941, he felt that he could no longer reject the patriotic climate." I wouldn't have wondered.

8:28 PM  

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