I had a rare opportunity to see Bernard Zakheim’s murals at UCSF in San Francisco. They are on all the walls of a lecture hall that’s for medical students and so usually not available. When I read that they were open to the public for three days this spring. I made sure to go on the first day.
Zakheim was a social justice artist who studied and worked with Diego Rivera. He’s best known for his murals at Coit Tower in San Francisco. Three of the four photographs here are mine. I was really glad I shot them but if I had realized that there was so little on the web I would have shot more extensively.
From the article in the San Francisco Chronicle by Carl Nolte:
The murals, painted over four years by the celebrated — and controversial — artist Bernard Zakheim, had kind of an underground reputation. They cover much of the walls of a large lecture room at Toland Hall. The 10 murals, which show the history of medicine in California, are colorful and vibrant.
…They are in the classic Mexican muralist style in the tradition of Diego Rivera,” who Zackheim worked and studied with. The UCSF murals, …are part of a tradition of mural fresco art that flourished in San Francisco during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Other examples are the murals at Coit Tower, in the lobby of Rincon Center, on the ground floor of the Beach Chalet at the western end of Golden Gate Park and a huge mural painted by Rivera himself that is now mounted at the little theater at City College.
The murals begin in an era before European contact and run up until the mid-20th century.
It is clear that Zakheim had strong views — the Spanish missionaries, for example, are presented in a harsh light. And he shows a different side of the Gold Rush of 1849 and later — a man amputating his own leg, a shooting involving a medical man and a quack doctor, a panel showing the great San Francisco plague scare of 1906.
Zakheim’s heroes are medical pioneers, among them Dr. Hugh Toland, who founded the medical school that eventually became UCSF. The villains are crooked politicians and other enemies of good medicine. It is powerful stuff.
They were covered up as “distracting” for may years… The late ’40s and ’50s were the height of an anticommunist hysteria, and Zakheim had been one of the left-leaning muralists who worked at Coit Tower, a piece of art regarded with suspicion by the political right. They were finally uncovered in 1963.
The amazing part of the experience is being in the small lecture hall surrounded by these vivid powerful political art.
They are at UCSF in Toland Hall, 533 Parnassus (Room U-142), up a flight of stairs and down a hall. Though the building is open to the public, there are no signs to indicate the artistic treasure inside Room U142. They can be seen Friday, April 17th: 3 – 5 p.m and Friday, May 22nd: 3 – 5 p.m.