American Alley’s Secret WPA Murals…Hiding in Plain Sight…PART II

Fourth in the series about Petaluma’s American Alley

A collaborative project with Independent Journalist, Frances Rivetti

Past articles are filed under American Alley

The Quest

EmbarrassedI must admit to feeling more than sheepish, dare I say embarrassed, as I have walked through Putnam Plaza at least a 1000 times over the years and NEVER noticed the artwork on the back of Copperfield’s until March 17, 2012!

American Alley ©Frank Simpson

AnnoyedTherefore, I was now determined to correct my blatant failure to exercise my powers of observation. I thought it would be a simple matter (silly me!) of just asking my usual sources for things historical.  They had always provided answers in the past.

This time they came up with bupkis…nothing…nada…zip.

So I elevated my inquiry to Bill Hammerman and Nina Zhito. Bill did know of the existence of the murals; however, he did not know the “who, what, when, and why” of their creation.  Bill and Nina independently referred the question to Katherine Rinehart who is an historian and expert on local architecture.  Katherine also knew about the murals, but, like Bill, did not know how they came to be.

At this point I was ready to ascribe the work to space aliens and be done with it all. Instead, I enlisted the help of Frances Rivetti. We met in Putnam Plaza and went back to look at the mural set. She was intrigued and immediately started working her information network–Literally, as it turns out, right there in the alley. It’s a story only she can tell!

As an aside, we have all become accustomed to simply going to our favorite search engine on the Internet for answers. This, of course assumes that all historical records, research materials, etc. are online.  They are not. We assumed there would be at least one newspaper article about the artwork.  We learned from Katherine Rinehart that searching for and locating such an article would be nearly impossible as the archives of the Argus-Courier are on microfilm and are not indexed.  Without a hint or inkling as to when any such article was ever published, we would have to know at least the month and the year to make a search even remotely feasible.

As a result of countless e-mails, phone calls and continuing investigative work by all of the above named people, Frances and I were able to discover the people behind the artwork. Hint–It wasn’t space aliens! 

Our work included, but was not limited to:

  • Interviewing the man who commissioned the work and learning its purpose.
  • Frances focusing on locating one of the artists and finally succeeding.  She used several channels and I suspect she even employed telepathy to pull it off.
  • Finding the Argus Courier article.

You will note that I have only published two photos of the artwork in this series. That was deliberate on my part.  For those who live in the area, you should go see them for yourself.  For those living elsewhere, you will have to “suffer” for a time. I will, however, include a complete set of photos in a later post or perhaps a web gallery.

TOMORROW:  American Alley’s Mural Array–Whodunit?

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2 thoughts on “American Alley’s Secret WPA Murals…Hiding in Plain Sight…PART II

  1. Omgosh do I have news for you! At least enough information to make you dangerous. Attended a program presented here in Pekin by a representative of the Peoria Historical Society and learned just enough to make ME dangerous — a program on the computer called “HistoryPin.” As I understand it — and I will learn more — I can put a picture of this postcard which my mother’s friend sent her in the 50s of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Eolia MO. I can include the info in her note on back about her great grandfather John William Davis building it in 1856 with slave labor, bricks made on his nearby farm, the bank account she has to maintain it, etc. Can you imagine how much that would mean to that congregation, if it’s still active? If I can make it happen, it will at least serve to defend my “saving” ways to my daughter. Let me know if you are interested, and of course if you research it before I do.

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