Maurice Del Mué Mural
by Anne McClain
The Valley clearly is blessed with more than its share of creative people—artists, writers, musicians and theater people. The Community Center, once known as the Art Center, has had a large role in nurturing the creative spark. It is also home to a beautiful mural painted by Maurice Del Mué in 1934 when the Center was the Lagunitas School. It was a Public Works of Art Project for the Works Progress Administration (WPA). This treasure was restored by art conservator Anne Rosenthal in 2004 after a fundraising effort by the Center spearheaded by Arts and Events Director Susan Lahr, and aided by artists Richard Lang and Judith Selby Lang.
Del Mué was born in Paris in 1875, grew up in San Francisco and lived in Forest Knolls on Resaca from 1924 until his death in 1955. He studied at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, an essential for anyone serious about being an artist in those days. He returned to San Francisco making his living as a painter of landscapes, still lifes, and portraits. He also did commercial work that is still in use today, including designing the Hills Brothers Coffee man in the yellow robes and the Arm and Hammer Baking Soda logo.
The Center just recently became aware that the first Lagunitas School is depicted in the mural—the little white house on the far right. Just faintly you can see a flagpole out front. In January of 2017 Kira Thelin presented a black and white photo of the mural to the Center. On the back it is signed by Maurice Del Mué and inscribed “To Mr. and Mrs. Clever and also Bobby for his good heart in posing for me.” So now we know who the boy is in the mural. Coincidentally, the Clevers lived across the street from Del Mué’s studio, in the Red House, Kira’s home!
Del Mué’s great-nephew, Thomas Wood, also an artist, who lives and works in Nicasio, gave a talk about his uncle at the Center in the autumn of 2004.
This is how he closed his remarks:
The mural in this building, one of his best, was close to his heart because it was for a grade-school. It was his gift to the children. He said he liked the idea that it was at the eye-level of the kids, and he knew that they would go by it every day and look at it, and that pleased him. In the painting he makes a point about education, too; a subtle point, that nature is the great teacher—the kids in the mural are gathering plants and flowers, and one is consulting a botanical text—and that art facilitates our awareness of the world around us. He would be delighted to know that his painting will continue to be appreciated, and will be around for many decades to come, for both kids and adults to enjoy!
The restoration began on Monday, March 22, 2004 and included repair and preservation of the mural. Anne Rosenthal, a member of the American Institute of Conservation, who has worked with the San Francisco Arts Commission, collectors, and historical societies, was chosen to perform the restoration and preservation work. The restoration work was performed on-site and was an educational experience. School student tours took place and the general public was invited to view the work in progress.
Richard Lang, artist and owner of Trillium Press in San Francisco digitally modified the mural to depict how it would look once cleaned and restored and reproduced color-fast prints on archival paper of this exquisite mural. The prints are unframed 15in. x 30in. and sell for $300. The funds raised from the print sales will be directed towards our continuing arts programming. If you have questions or would like to purchase a print contact Larry Rippee, Arts Coordinator at (415) 488-8888 x252 or firstname.lastname@example.org.