Issue 20 : Spring 2011









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Mission Dolores Mural:
Bringing San Francisco's Historic First Mural to Light

by Ben Wood

15 Feb 2011



t the corner of Bartlett and 22nd Street, next door to Revolution Café and just one block from Artists Television Access, a mural is being planned for the Mission Market exterior wall. This spring three local muralists will start painting a mural that has not been seen in this area since the 1790's when Franciscan Friars, at the newly built Mission Dolores, had the mural painted by native peoples. For about five years the mural was covered by an ornate wooden altarpiece, and only friars, soldiers, and native people saw the mural each day. In c. 1797, the mural was covered by an ornate wooden altar from San Blas, Mexico. The two have remained firmly bound together for centuries, withstanding earthquakes and silently bearing witness to the transforming landscape around.

This mural was not simply art, but a sacred device to connect the numerous groups of native people with the divine. Icons depicted, images of a heart pierced by a sword and a heart pierced by three daggers, may represent the sorrowful mother Mary and her son Jesus, designed suitably for this mission which lay on the banks of the stream, "Our Lady of Sorrows Creek", once located at Albion and Camp Street. The mural could be considered a visual prayer that embodies the key messages and tenets of the doctrine of Catholicism. It's a montage of both the native California Indian religion and the religion brought to them by the friars. The native California people brought their own world view to beautify the church.

A twenty by five foot section of the original art will be faithfully recreated as a permanent mural and piece of public art for all to see. Using over 250 photographs that were captured in 2004 by lowering a camera on a rope-and-pulley system behind the altar, the top section of the mural will be reproduced with the same colors, abstract decorative patterns and designs that exist in the original. It will include a rendering of the niche, or recessed cove, abstract decorative designs and two hearts, encircled by golden bands. Jet Martinez, a co-organizer of the Clarion Alley Mural project, had had the wall in mind for his own Oaxacan-inspired mural design. He helped propose the idea of the mural to Mission Community Market organizer Jeremy Shaw. Meanwhile Megan Wilson, advocated for recent "Laser Ca" muralists Bonnie Reiss and Ezra Li Eismont as perfect artists for the project.Jeremy Shaw obtained permission from the property owner and the project has now been made possible.

Bartlett Street recently a venue for a new, weekly outdoor community market of fresh foods and community activities is located between 21st and 22nd street. The location of the mural at the site of a community market is a direct way of sharing the unknown mural with the diverse population frequenting Mission Market each week. It will be a long-term attraction for artists, historians, tourists, and community members alike.

The Dolores mural will be accompanied by a contemporary mural designed by Jet Martinezto sympathetically integrated within the building's façade, as well, acting as a guardian of the sacred mural. Decorative motifs found throughout the old mission will also be used to unify to two murals. A descriptive legend will retell the story.

Detail of the planned mural, the sacred heart"

Campaign to Support the Art

Before painting begins, a campaign to raise sufficient funding will commence. The goal is simple. We need to raise enough money to pay for the muralists time and materials. Please help us to share this significant California treasure. Until now this project has been entirely voluntary and this funding will play a significant role in making the mural and its story accessible to the larger public.

Project Link

More Information about the campaign and project can be found at:

Click here for an extensive history of the mural