Venice High School has invited the public to view two panels of a forgotten Depression-era mural in the school library that have become more visible after recent renovation of the building.
The 12-by-35-foot panels, located on each end of the library in the administration building, are titled “Early California to 1800" and “Southern California 1800 On.”
They were completed in 1941 by a team of Los Angeles historians, illustrators and painters led by artist Helen Lundeberg. Financing was provided by the Works Project Administration, which gave many artists the only work they could get at the time: decorating public buildings. (There is another WPA mural, by Harry Biberman, inside the Venice Post Office.).
“In the opinion of the staff, the mural is the most outstanding one of its kind in this region,” the WPA said after the Venice High School murals were completed.
Although the mural panels have not been retouched, the administration building has been refurbished.
“The newly painted walls and ceiling visually enhance this previously neglected outstanding mural of the WPA era,” said Venice High librarian Fay Griffith.
The library’s pristine white walls and 18-foot-high beamed ceiling provide a pleasing setting for the Depression-era paintings, she said.
Other than library users, few are aware of the mural panels, which Griffith said were soon forgotten after World War II moved to the forefront of America’s attention.
This occurred despite the reputation of supervising artist Lundeberg, now 86.
She is “an amazing, powerful, visionary artist who has had a significant impact on California artists,” said Duane Chartier of ConserveArt in Culver City, a firm restores murals.
Even though ConserveArt restored Lundeberg’s WPA mural in Fullerton City Hall--now the Police Department briefing room--Chartier and prominent Los Angeles muralists such as Terry Schoonhooven and Vic Henderson have not seen her Venice High mural.
Lundeberg was born in 1908 and holds an important place in California art history. In 1980, she and her husband, Lorser Feitelson, were the subject of a San Francisco Museum of Art retrospective.
Her collaborator on the Venice High project, Grace Clements, helped to design and paint the mural, as well as to gather the historical information upon which it is based during May, 1940.
Lundeberg and Clements completed the sketch in a month. The mural’s historic representations were developed, under Lundeberg’s supervision, by artists Syrena Swanson, Auriel Leitner and Elizabeth Mills. Seven months later, on Jan. 14, 1941, the painting of the mural by Lundeberg, Clements, Swanson and Leitner, along with Edwin Emery and Miriam Farrington, was completed.
The conventional style was a departure for Lundeberg, who was better known as a practitioner of the New Classicist style--later called post-Surrealism.
Griffith said she wishes the mural panels could be better displayed.
“We are hoping to find the funds to properly light these treasures or that . . . somebody will have the wherewithal to light them right,” she said.
Tours of the school and library can be arranged by calling Maria Garcia at (310) 306-7981, Ext. 373. The school and library are operating on a summer schedule, open on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings.
Also on view is a collection of ancient Grecian urns.