American Alley’s Mural Array–Whodunit?

Fifth in the series about Petaluma’s American Alley

A collaborative project with Independent Journalist, Frances Rivetti

Past articles are filed under American Alley

Also See Hidden in Plain Sight on Petaluma Patch

Finding the answers as to the “who, what, when and why” behind the artwork on the back of the present day Copperfield’s required the collaboration of several people.

Mattei Brothers Clothing Store

Bill Hammerman was able to come up with the first breakthrough in solving this art history mystery when he established that the man behind the artwork was Bob Mattei of the Mattei Brother’s clothing store. Briefly, Mattei’s had been in business in Petaluma at several downtown locations for 87 years. It occupied the building now known as Copperfield’s from 1965 until the business closed at the end of 1994. (For background on the store, see SF Gate*)

Armed with this information, Frances and I visited with Bob Mattei on March 27. Mattei told us that the clothing market  was changing in the early nineties and he was searching for ways to meet the shifting trends of the marketplace: “I was going for the high school business…jeans, etc. I always had kids from the high school working in the store.” Mattei worked with them to come up with a plan for a separate teenage department or store in the basement and involved them in the advertising and inventory selection. They also came up with the name, The Underground Clothing Store.

According to Mattei: “A lot of the teenagers did not like coming into my store because it was like their father’s store, So I came up with the idea of putting the entrance in the alley…[to provide an alternative entry].”  As a means of attracting customers to the back of the store, Mattei decided that some artwork over the back door was in order. Consequently he connected with two local artists who eventually produced the work.  He did not discuss the concept or the design in the interview except to say that the artists “…ran some ideas by me and came up with the work theme.” To carry out the project, Mattei brought in portable lifts to enable the artists to work and to be able to exit the alley when vehicles needed to pass.

The Artists

We were able to get a better feeling for the timeline of the artwork after Frances established contact with an artist who worked on the project. He provided a critical piece of information–the date of a 1995 Argus Courier article regarding the murals.** 

Armed with this information, Katherine Rinehart located the article on microfilm in short order. From the information contained in the Argus article, it appears that the artwork was completed a few months before the store closed in 1994. This may explain why so few people have any memory of it, or its origins. We did learn from the article that the artists researched and were heavily influenced by the WPA style artwork of the 1930′s when they designed and laid out the project.

NOTES

*On December 13, 1994, the Argus Courier published an article by Jay Gamel on the store’s closing. Katherine Rinehart wrote a retrospective article about Mattei’s for the spring 2008 edition of Petaluma Magazine: Kentucky Street Suited Mattei Brothers. These articles are not available online but are available at the library. My interpretation of the copyright laws precludes their inclusion with this article.

** I did not attach a copy of the 1995 Argus Courier article or the accompanying photo of one of the artists for the same reason as stated in the above note. The article did report the names of two artists commissioned by Mattei as Fernando Nugent and Charlie Roder.

This series will resume later next month.

So stay tuned!

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In the interim, enjoy a brief slideshow documenting the multimedia aspects of the work.

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