Entries tagged with “Time in My Coffee”.


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Washington High’s mural showing George Washington beside a dead American Indian.

In an April posting about Inverness artist Igor Sazevich’s new memoir, Time in My Coffee,  I noted that 83 years ago Igor’s father, Zygmund, helped artist Victor Arnautoff create the mural at Washington High that San Francisco school leaders have decided to cover over or obliterate. The mural shows George Washington standing over a dead American Indian and includes Washington’s black slaves.

School leaders believe showing the cruelty is offensive to native Americans and blacks. I criticized the proposed removal and quoted a San Francisco Chronicle editorial: “The paintings should stay for several important reasons. They’re hardly a one-sided glorification of the past. Instead they underline the harsh treatment of Indians and slaves. To miss this shot at the Founding Fathers era is to miss the subversive message by muralist Victor Arnautoff, a noted Depression-era leftist.”

Unfortunately, for thousands of years there always have been people ready to destroy the art of past eras on grounds the subject matter isn’t proper for their own era.

The Great Sphinx at Gaza, Egypt, was carved around 2,500 B.C. and survived mostly intact until 1378 A.D. when a Sufi Muslim named Muhammad Sa’im al-Dahr destroyed the nose.

By some accounts, Egyptian peasants had been making offerings to the Great Sphinx in hopes of controlling the flood cycle in order to have a successful harvest. Outraged by this blatant show of devotion to a god other than Allah, Sa’im al-Dahr destroyed the nose and was later executed for vandalism.

In the 6th century BC, ancient Greeks erected numerous phallic statues around a temple to the god Dionysus on the island of Delos. The statues survived intact for almost eight centuries until Victorian era explorers found the marble erections and broke them off as indecent.

Another crushing blow to cultural history occurred in March 2001 in Afghanistan. Two giant statues known as the Buddhas of Bamiyan were destroyed by the Taliban, on grounds they were “anti-Islamic.”

The two Buddhas, which were dynamited, dated back to 544 A.D. and stood 180 feet and 120 feet tall in a religious site. They were carved directly into a cliff and were the largest Buddhist statues in the world.

If Washington High’s murals are painted over, perhaps they can be replaced with a picture of a Buddha blowing up. This would demonstrate that San Francisco Unified School District’s censorship is in line with international practices.

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Talk about being timely (that’s our name after all), I had no sooner written about several topics in Time in My Coffee, Inverness artist/architect Igor Sazevich’s newly published autobiography, than another topic in the book was suddenly all over Bay Area news.

Igor captioned this collage, “From top: Father’s portrait of Victor Arnautoff; Detail from Victor Arnautoff’s mural at Washington High School; Father in his studio; Me on [a high school friend] Don’s shoulders; Father’s sketch of me.”

Time in My Coffee took on new significance this past week after a public controversy arose over Arnautoff’s mural at Washington High in San Francisco. As the book relates, Victor’s father Zygmund had helped produce the mural.

The muralist had met Igor’s father “at the California School of Fine Arts, become friends, and worked together on a few projects. At Washington Victor had been commissioned to paint large frescos on each side of the grand stairway leading to foyer, and father had helped with mixing the plaster undercoats….

“While the majority of the panels portrayed the struggling working class, one wall depicted Washington pointing the way forward to his troops, a slain Indian warrior at his feet. While I was at the school, this mural was a rendezvous spot: ‘Meet you under the dead Indian.’”

In response to 75 years of such comments, school board members are now talking about getting rid of the mural, possibly by painting it over or moving it somewhere.

Better to teach the history. As The San Francisco Chronicle editorialized on Wednesday: San Francisco school leaders have “taken up an unwinnable argument in deciding what to do about murals at George Washington High School — depicting the first president’s life and times — that some find hurtful and racist.

“The paintings should stay for several important reasons. They’re hardly a one-sided glorification of the past. Instead they underline the harsh treatment of Indians and slaves. To miss this shot at the Founding Fathers era is to miss the subversive message by muralist Victor Arnautoff, a noted Depression-era leftist….

“Contemporary views and sensitivities shouldn’t be ignored. An explanation of the artist, his times, and the suggestive power of the mural should be provided for viewers. The sight of a dead Indian or hunched-over slaves cannot be ignored without comment or thought.”

I would add that Arnautoff’s work also deserves to stay because he was a major artist in San Francisco history. Arnautoff was, for example, also responsible for several significant murals in Coit Tower, which were themselves once controversial, as Igor notes. One mural that upset some people during the Red Scares of the McCarthy era included a newsstand selling the Communist Daily Worker but not mainstream newspapers.

‘Time in My Coffee’ is available at Point Reyes Books, Gallery Route One, & Book Passages in Corte Madera