WPA Murals at the Courthouse

So remember a few months ago (actually, January… yikes!) when I went to The Alameda County Courthouse?  I mentioned a couple of imposing marble mosaic murals that somehow, despite their large size (15 feet tall) and proximity to the main entrance of the building, I missed.

Well, I was back at the Courthouse last Friday and can happily say, I’ve seen them now and am bringing them to you a mere 6 months later.  Phew.

First an explanation…  The main entrance and lobby which feature the lovely artworks, are no longer the main entrance and lobby.  The entire area has been cordoned off, and signs warn visitors that venturing beyond the ropes will set off the alarm system.  Did I listen? Of course not.

I wasn’t going to try to exit that part of the building which has now, sadly, been designated an emergency exit only.  But I was going to sneak closer to get a few better shots of these beauties…

The alarms signaled immediately. That’s it, I thought.  I’m done for. They’re coming for me.  But I might as well get the shots!

I probably set that damn alarm off five times before a security guard came and said, “Hey, you’re setting the alarm off.”  But I just want to take a picture of the pretty artwork sir. “OK.”  And then he left.  Nice security.

marble mosaic murals, terrazo floors, alameda county courthouse

Here are the two murals, mosaics created out of colored marble with backing of silver and gold leaf… created through the WPA (Works Progress Administration), a federal funding program that was established in 1935 to “provide economic relief to the citizens of the United States who were suffering through the Great Depression.” Think stimulus funds, but 75 years ago. Amazingly, a significant chunk of this money went to fund art projects. (wpamurals.com)

The murals, designed by Marian Simpson and sculpted by Gaetano Duccini were completed in 1938.  The first depicts Native American and Hispanic history of Alameda County, while the second portrays the settlement of the area by frontier settlers.

marble mosaic mural, marian simpson marble mural, alameda county courthouse

marble mosaic murals, WPA murals, courthouse murals, marian simpson marble murals

I’m in awe of the fact that these are constructed out of colored stone…. it’s some incredible craftsmanship. It’s too bad we can’t readily view them as they were intended to be viewed.

Rather you must now enter the courthouse through a side door to pass through “airport security” before entering the building.  And should you want to sneak a peak, you can do so only while sirens wail as you wait for the man in the uniform to come for you.

5 thoughts on “WPA Murals at the Courthouse

  1. Gene

    Those are amazing — I’d never seen those before. Probably because the few times I’ve been to the courthouse has been for jury duty, and between that and the security I’m not seeing much.

    1. studiodeb333 Post author

      What’s also kind of interesting is the symbolic way in which all the characters are portrayed…definitely gives insight into the era (1930’s) I think if that mural were created today, you wouldn’t see the Native Americans on their knees before the “man of God” and the Spanish Conquistador…

  2. Debbie Duccini-Day

    Thank you for posting these. My paternal grandfather was Gaetano Duccini. I have been gathering all that I can on his art legacy and these photos are a treasure since I, myself, have not been to the Alameda County Courthouse. I do have a newspaper article when he was doing this project with Marion Simpson. How did you become interested in this?

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