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Bishop Honors Murals Art .. yet Courts Controversy

California Public Art & Mural Society [CALPAMS] Symposium October 5 through 9, 2005

Bishop Mural Society was the 2005 host for the third biennial CALPAMS Murals Symposium, following Lompoc [2001] and Lindsay [2003]. It has much to be proud of. Under the leadership of Barbel Williams and Dan Wells they organised a fine 4 day program of events for some three score artists, administrators and volunteers from around the Republic and neighbouring States plus international visitors from Canada, Argentina and Scotland.

Bishop's Society accomplished no less than three mural dedications over four days. It is already a most substantial and successful murals city with more than 20 to its credit since their establishment 6 years ago. The bustling Main Street shows clearly that it is not a 'typical' murals city suffering the harshest social and/or economic degradation as all too many members of the Global Association do. The current affluence is largely credited to the myriad recreational opportunities in the truly glorious Eastern Sierra Nevada such as Mt Whitney, Mammoth and June Lakes or the John Muir Wilderness. But it has experienced its share of economic disappointment with the closure of its mountain mines and the loss of some 700 jobs.

A Full Program and Much to Share and Learn

The scheduled sessions ran from the crack of dawn for twelve hours each day, 8 till 8. And an impressive array of contributors had been assembled, including many familiar faces. Nathan Zakheim amazed everyone present with tales of dare-do in mural removal and restoration in California, counselling that providing for such eventualities should be designed into the original creation of all murals. He then took the entire body politik onto the streets of Bishop for an open air tutorial on some of the paint chemistry errors in Bishop's earliest artwork. James Prigoff provided the latest update on his 'global treasure hunt' for the best murals he could find; and Mark Amparan of Nova Color Paint gave his own chemistry report.

Kathleen Farrell from Joliet, Illinois roused the Symposium to near fever pitch with a spirited presentation of the achievements in her old steel town by a syndicate of artists led by herself working to union rules and fixed/ negotiated rates per sq. foot of wall. In a later forum others shared one with another their own discrete approaches to commissioning [including copyright arrangements] and recompensing their chosen artists. Roger Cooke from Sandy, Oregon, also an artist, offered his own approaches including helping new small towns to get started. This latter issue was also focussed on by Dr Karl Schutz, the Global Association President, emphasising the can-do mentality required.

Nathan Zakheim's al fresco tutorial was not the only excursion away from the Parish Hall Meeeting Rooms where the Symposium convened however. An optional desert journey in convoy to nearby petroglyphs was made with lunch taken thereafter at Laws Historical Railway Museum, being Bishop's originating rail station. [This particular activity created a whole new meaning for the economic multiplier effect of murals art as car after car made its way to the wash!]

Smiling Weather and Garden Nursery Mural from Janet Essley

The weather was glorious throughout, and none better than for the box lunch and Bishop Garden Nursery afternoon mural dedication of "The Sunland Orchard circa 1912" illustrated below. Its painter, Janet Essley, is already a familiar contributor in the city and she also showed a whimsical mural prepared with school children depicting the space travelling mule train of Bishop!

The other major beneficiary of fine weather was the walking tour of all the city's murals led by local artists willing and able to explain and interpret their work. All agreed that the cancelled bus tour [no buses available after all] was no bad thing at all. The chance to stop, and stare and understand was greatly appreciated and a lesson perhaps for some other towns hosting such occasions.

Disappearance of Owens River not Trompe l'Oeil!

The second mural dedication was of John Pugh's second work in town. The new mural is as enigmatic as ever and once again made outstanding use of the trompe l'oeil technique. But this time the controversy attaching to his mural came from the "editorialised and politicised" focus of its historical tale - the Los Angeles Water & Power Department [LAWPD].

Some century ago far sighted planners in LA realised they would need an ever increasing supply of water for their city, and they wisely acquired the headwaters of Owens River. Eventually the time came when they began piping these waters directly their way, leaving Owens River as a pale imitation of its former self and posing the question: what might have been? Law suits by disadvataged downstreamers in the valley achieved victory, but LA has declined to accept that and is now being fined daily for its non observance of the Court ruling.

Against this background John Pugh painted a hypothesised fruit farming landscape and added a symbolic trompe l'oeil water point labelled LAWPD. First the stiring media reports, and then the LAWPD took umbrage and the latter perhaps understandably withdrew its $500 contribution to the cost of the work.

Click here to view the New York Times article.

For Symposium attendees surely the most significant point of the whole episode came in the correspondence with the LAWPD. They indicated their working assumption about public art murals - they were expected to recount acceptable history not address its controversial elements, to produce "murals with positive portrayls that unite the community". On reflection most present had to agree that was what they too had tended to do, but they wondered why that should necssarily be so. Art many felt could and should be willing to be controversial when necessary just as literature and music are.[To remain in touch with the press comment trail arising GO:]

Art Mortimer Comes up Trumps Again

Art Mortimer once again demonstrated his outstanding skills of leadership and planning with disparate helpers of greater and lesser artistic skill. Once again, after admittedly weeks of research and outline preparation, he led a most enjoyable 'coloring' session for his Mural in a Day project to create a memorable work of public art addressing Bishop's mining history. And on this occasion he was also able to bring a direct descendant of one of those depicted both as a platform speaker and as a locutor at its dedication in the person of Joe Kurtak. Joe is author of Mine in the Sky: The story of Bishop's Pine Creek Mine which his father as a research scientist working there had kept in business against world competition by substantive findings that enabled fine ores. The last guardian employee of a second Bishop mine also depicted was able to attend and together they added Story Telling to the art form we beheld.

Bishop's gratitude to all volunteer painters involved was expressed with commemorative T shirts and an elegant certificate, which they clearly appreciated. But the painters' own appreciation of Art Mortimer was heartfelt for a most memorable and fun experience working under pressure together. He is an outstanding professional in his work and internationally admired.

Elks Lodge at Night

Dan Wells in particular took care of the Symposium's nightlife, and whilst it could never match the fascination of Ely Nevada's Brothel Tour in 2004, its camaraderie was superior! Elks Lodge was the regular. This included the final evening and following debriefing breakfast, both of which saw sincere votes of thanks from the City Mayor and all participants to Barbel Williams and all her colleagues; and to CALPAMS officers led by the redoutable Bill Drennan.

...and talking of that former City Manager of Lindsay, he was also formally installed as Californian 'Consul' for the Prestoungrange Arts Festival's 2006 Global Murals Conference in Prestonpans, Scotland, August 15 through 19, 2006. A not inconsiderable Scottish delegation was in attendance in Bishop led by Andrew Crummy, Murals Convenor there, and the Baron of Prestoungrange - both promoting the Global Mural Association's own next biennial gathering. And they went away not only with countless promises of attendance/ hopes for Scotland in 2006 but also two uniquely relevant memories - California/ Nevada's John Muir Wilderness and Trail and June Lake with its autumnal aspen foliage. Both are already nominally linked with Prestoungrange which has its own John Muir 'Walk' passing by its mural foreshore on the Firth of Forth; and in a Ms June Lake being the lady who presided at both the 1986 and 2004 restorations of the Prestoungrange Gothenburg, the arts hub in town.[In 2004 she also incidentally unveiled Wei Luan's Cat Fight Mural donated after the Lindsay CALPAMS Symposium.]

CALPAMS Gets Formal Lift Off from Bishop

.... and still talking of Bill Drennen ... in partnership with Ray Kinsman of 29 Palms and Gene Stevens of Lompoc, he is also finding time now for the formal, not-for-profit organisation of CALPAMS. Thus far, and it has no less than three Symposia to its credit, it has been an informal structure but no more. Full details were announced at the Symposium in Bishop with all present resolving to enrol as founding mebers. Comprehensive details of how all other committed persons and townships can become members in any one of many grades is to be found at the emergent CALPAMS website - which incidentally also promises to be an invaluable Help facility with Information Guides for key issues, a database of artists and more: GO

Published Date: October 5th 2005

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