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Politics and Modernism: The Trial of the Rincon Annex Murals

1. U.S. Congress, Committee on Public Works, Subcommittee on Public Buildings and Grounds, Rincon Annex murals, San Francisco, Hearing, 83rd Congress, first session, May 1, 1953, 1-87. [BACK]

2. Scudder's accomplishments in the Capitol, detailed in a thin volume entitled Memorial Addresses and Eulogies in the Congress of the United States on the Life and Contributions of Hubert Baxter Scudder (Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1968), consist chiefly of water projects for his home district, though his successor, Representative Don Clausen, wrote in his introduction to the volume that Scudder's greatest achievement was "to put Sebastopol on the map." [BACK]

3. Though Refregier was accused of political radicalism, his figurative and narrative style was fundamentally conservative. While working on murals for the 1939-40 New York World's Fair with Philip Guston and others, Refregier wrote in his diary that the studio was "the closest to the Renaissance of anything, I am sure, that has ever happened before in the States," a paraphrase of Augustus Saint-Gaudens's similar remark about the gathering of artists that produced the Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago. Though the events depicted at Rincon Annex are occasionally provocative, the programmatic narrative remains academic and firmly rooted in Renaissance precedent. Refregier's diary is quoted in Francis V. O'Connor's introduction to Art for the Millions (Greenwich, Conn.: New York Graphic Society, 1973), 22-23. For other post office projects, see Karal Ann Marling, Wall-to-Wall America: A Cultural History of Post Office Murals in the Great Depression (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1982); and Marlene Park and Gerald E. Markowitz, Democratic Vistas: Post Offices and Public Art in the New Deal (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1984). For the academic tradition, see Fikret K. Yegül, Gentlemen of Instinct and Breeding: Architecture at the American Academy in Rome, 1894-1940 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991). [BACK]

4. Dwight Clarke, William Tecumseh Sherman, Gold Rush Banker (San Francisco: California Historical Society, 1969), 305; Victoria Post Ranney, ed., The Papers of Frederick Law Olmsted , Vol. 5, The California Frontier, 1863-1865 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990); Joshua Speed, Reminiscences of Abraham Lincoln and Notes of a Visit to California (Louisville, Ky.: John P. Morton and Co., 1884), 65. [BACK]

5. Joseph Donohue Grant, Redwoods and Reminiscences (San Francisco: Save-the-Redwoods League and Menninger Foundation, 1973), 11. [BACK]

6. Greg Mitchell, The Campaign of the Century: Upton Sinclair's Race for Governor of California and the Birth of Media Politics (New York: Random House, 1992). [BACK]

7. Mike Quin [pseud.], The Big Strike (Olema, Calif.: Olema Publishing Co., 1949). [BACK]

8. The material for such an inventory and appraisal is on index cards and in other primary sources in the National Archives. [BACK]

9. George Biddle, "Art under Five Years of Federal Patronage," American Scholar 9, no. 3 (Summer 1940): 333. [BACK]

10. William E McDonald, Federal Relief Administration and the Arts: The Origins and Administrative History of the Arts Projects of the Works Progress Administration (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1969), 359. For the academic tradition against which artists like Refregier were reacting, see the catalogue The American Renaissance, 1876-1917 (New York: Brooklyn Museum and Pantheon Books, 1979). [BACK]

11. Logan's campaign against un-American modernism resembles contemporary attacks against "degenerate" art in Germany. See the editorial "Art Is Sick" from Munich Illustrated Press (e.g., "Only when art returns to a proclamation of beauty and becomes once more a vehicle of sanity and naturalness, will it become possible to speak again of German art"), cited in Josephine Hancock Logan, Sanity in Art (Chicago: A. Kroch, 1937), as well as the illustrations of "good" versus "bad" art in the same volume. [BACK]

12. Gerald M. Monroe, "The Thirties: Art, Ideology, and the WPA," Art in America 63 , no. 6 (November-December 1975): 67. [BACK]

13. Biddle, "Art under Five Years of Federal Patronage," 335. [BACK]

14. The political controversy surrounding the Coit Tower project is related in Masha Zakheim Jewett, Coit Tower, San Francisco: Its History and Art (San Francisco: Volcano Press, 1983). [BACK]

15. Richard D. McKinzie, The New Deal for Artists (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1973), 25. [BACK]

16. Joseph Danysh gives a personal account of how the Examiner doctored the photograph, in "The WPA and the Great Coit Tower Controversy," City of San Francisco 10, no. 30 (February 4, 1976): 20-21. [BACK]

17. Evelyn Seeley, "A Frescoed Tower Clangs Shut amid Gasps," Literary Digest 118, no. 8 (August 25, 1934): 24. [BACK]

18. Its official name changed to the Treasury Section of Fine Arts in 1938 and later to the Section of Fine Arts of the Public Buildings Administration of the Federal Works Agency. It died along with its director, Edward Bruce, in 1943. See Karal Ann Marling (as in note 3) for an anecdotal history of art controversies that preceded the Rincon Annex hearings. [BACK]

19. San Francisco Chronicle , November 15, 1942. [BACK]

20. Anton Refregier's account of his experiences working on the Rincon Annex murals is in a typed, undated [ca. 1949] manuscript in the ACA [American Contemporary Art] Gallery papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, roll D304, frames 1099—1106. [BACK]

21. Ibid., frame 1105 (p. 7). [BACK]

22. People's World , March 19, 1948; San Francisco Examiner , November 14, 1947. [BACK]

23. See San Francisco Examiner , April 16, 1948. [BACK]

24. Refregier account, frame 1104 (p. 6). [BACK]

25. Ibid. [BACK]

26. People's World , March 19, 1948. [BACK]

27. People's World , March 28, 1948. [BACK]

28. San Francisco Examiner , October 26, 1948. [BACK]

29. George E Sherman, "Dick Nixon: Art Commissar," Nation 176, no. 2 (January 10, 1953): 21. [BACK]

30. Dondero is quoted in Mathew Josephson, "The Vandals Are Here: Art Is Not for Burning," Nation 177, no. 13 (September 26, 1953): 244. [BACK]

31. "The intellectual-moral achievements of the Roosevelt-Truman era are now to be liquidated; its paintings along with its social plans are to be consigned to the rubbish heap. The 'inquisition' of New Deal artists and their works was begun promptly after the conservatives took over in 1953, with Anton Refregier as first defendant" (ibid., 247). [BACK]

32. See Logan (as in note 11), and catalogues for the Society of Western Artists in the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. [BACK]

33. Official art in California, at least prior to the Second World War, was often promotional; thus it must be understood in terms of what was not depicted. The Edenic image of the state was designed to attract as many desirable immigrants as possible. [BACK]

34. Charles White's papers are in the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. [BACK]

35. People's World , September 2, 1947. Refregier taught classes at the Labor School while working on the Rincon Annex murals. [BACK]

36. Gustoh's reasoning was equivocal. See Congressional Record (as in note 1), 20. [BACK]

37. Congressional Record , 29-33. [BACK]

38. Refregier's assistant, Louise Gilbert, concluded a letter of June 25, 1953, to the San Francisco Chronicle by saying, "The most charitable thing to be said of Rep. Hubert Scudder, who aired the mistaken charges against the murals in Congress, is that he has never seen them." [BACK]

39. To indicate the international furor caused by the hearings, Mathew Josephson noted that even "the London Times voiced its disgust at this latest atrocity of the American heresy hunters" (Josephson [as in note 30], 247). [BACK]

40. Letter from Julian Huxley to Anton Refregier, April 18, 1953. [BACK]

41. The Archives of American Art has the papers of the museum directors Walter Heil and Thomas Cart Howe, as well as the Chronicle art critic Alfred Frankenstein, all of which may contain further information on the Rincon Annex controversy. [BACK]

42. Congressional Record , 61. [BACK]

43. Ibid., 64. In response to Representative Scudder's resolution, Dr. Morley organized the Citizen's Committee to Protect the Rincon Annex Murals. [BACK]

44. San Francisco Examiner , June 11, 1953. [BACK]

45. Editorial, San Francisco Examiner , May 18, 1953. [BACK]

46. McKinzie (as in note 15), 176. [BACK]

47. Congressional Record , 56. Representative Maillard rejoined that "an artist is entitled to a certain amount of license as far as portrayal is concerned" and that "you are not asking the artist to put on the wall a photographic representation." [BACK]

48. Henry Miller wrote of Hiler's murals: "Though the decor was distinctly Freudian, it was also gay, stimulating, and superlatively healthy." See Stephen A. Haller, "From the Outside In: Art and Architecture in the Bathhouse," California History 64, no. 4 (Fall 1985): 283; and Steven Gelber, "Working to Prosperity: California's New Deal Murals," California History 58, no. 2 (Summer 1979). [BACK]

49. Representative Will E. Neal felt that "the pictures represent the cartoonist's way of doing things" and were therefore most dangerous to impressionable minds ( Congressional Record , 59). [BACK]

50. San Francisco Chronicle , March 8, 1952. [BACK]

51. Mathews's little magazine Philopolis contains numerous articles (many written by Mathews himself) that approvingly cite the "natural" subjugation or extermination of the weaker races by the stronger. [BACK]

52. Gertrude Atherton, California: An Intimate History (New York: Harper, 1914), 30. [BACK]

53. Congressional Record , 43. [BACK]

54. Ibid. [BACK]

55. Refregier (as in note 20), frame 1106. [BACK]

56. Congressional Record , 69. [BACK]

57. Emmy Lou Packard's papers are in the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. [BACK]

58. Douglas Frantz, From the Ground Up: The Business of Building in the Age of Money (New York: Holt, 1991). Frantz implies that Haas was unhappy with the final product. [BACK]

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