Letter to Library from Bernal Muralist’s Heir

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07/08/2012 by Library Users Association

Ensures Paint Out Stoppage for 90 Days

            San Francisco, July 8, 2012 – The Victor Jara mural on Bernal Heights Branch Library got a surer reprieve from destruction this weekend, when Nancy York, sister of muralist Arch Williams, sent a letter to San Francisco Public Library’s head enclosing proof that she is the executor of his estate.

Peter Warfield, Executive Director of Library Users Association, said the action ensures that “the library will have no excuse whatever to remove the mural any time before expiration of the 90-day notice period, and we certainly hope that the mural’s survival can be permanently assured prior to October 1.”

City Librarian Luis Herrera requested that Ms. York send “documentation of your current role as executor or representative of the artist’s estate on or before July 10, 2012.”  It continued, “if you are unable to remove or pay for the removal of the mural before October 1, 2012, the City will proceed with its Bernal Heights Branch Library renovation project as planned, including the removal of Mr. Williams’s mural.”

Ms. York asserted her rights to 90-day notice of removal — and the right to remove the mural or have it removed — under the California Art Preservation Act (CAPA), which she faxed in a letter on June 8, 2012.

Under CAPA, the artist of a work of fine art that is to be destroyed must be notified so that he or she may remove the work, or have it removed.  The right passes to the heir or personal representative in case of the artist’s death, and continues for 50 years.  Arch Williams died in 1996, so the rights would be valid until 2046, 34 years from the present.

Ms. York’s letter encloses a copy of her brother’s “hand written will in which he names me (Ms. York) as his executor of his estate.”

Ms. York continues, “I must say that it concerns me that you are only now complying with the California Art Preservation Act, Civil Code 987 especially as the Bernal Mural was already altered in 2008-09.”  She continued, “It was only through the efforts of Peter Warfield, Executive Director of Library Users Association, that I became aware of the pending June 11 destruction of the mural, resulting in my fax June 8th asserting my rights.”

The Library had planned scaffold erection for June 8th, which went ahead, and paint out of the mural starting June 11th .  That work was suspended and continues to be suspended to date.

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               The existing mural was painted by muralists Arch Williams and Carlos Alcala in 1980-1982, with participation by many adults and children.  Approved by the Arts Commission and Library Commission at the time, it covers three sides of the building.  The front includes the important Chilean musician Victor Jara playing his guitar, with his name, and words in Spanish and English from one of his songs.  Jara was tortured and killed by the Chilean military when they seized power in 1973; the stadium in Chile’s capital where arrestees were brought after the coup is now named after Jara. The front panel also includes singer Holly Near’s name and words in Spanish and English, and the image of an African American singer modeled on Roberta Flack.  The mural also honors working women, and Native Americans.  The proposed mural omits Jara, Near, working women, a local history, children, the UN symbol and more.

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