Category Archives: mosaic

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. (

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.

I ♥ Oakland

A gorgeous mosaic at Bret Harte Middle School in Dimond District.  Fashioned together by students, including dozens of custom hand-painted tiles…

oakland pride, oakland tree, oakland tree mosaic, oakland mosaic art

bret harte middle school, oakland tree mosaic, oakland mosaic art

Painted sentiments include “I ♥ Oakland”, “East Oakland Pride”, “We love Oakland”, “HOPE”, and much much more…

hand painted tiles, mosaic of oakland tree, mosaic by oakland students

This spotted in my soon-to-be-new-neighborhood. Regulars to this blog will note a heavy emphasis on Downtown/Uptown and West Oakland districts because that’s where I live now. But in the next couple of months I’ll be making my way over to Dimond district and I’m extremely excited to explore and discover more of Oaktown’s East Side!

Note added 4/28/2011:  I now know this project is titled “Spirit of Oakland” and was organized by artist/teacher Pam Consear.  See her blog-post documenting the work… “Spirit of Oakland,” Bret Harte Middle School, Oakland, CA

Magical Mosaic

While I was tooling around downtown to shoot all the gorgeous historic buildings for my Art Deco series, I came across this incredible mosaic installed over what was once, presumably, a rather plain door front on Broadway (2141).  It’s stunning.

mosaic on broadway, oakland mosaic art

It’s hard to see in the photo above, but there are words embedded in the trunk of the tree as it curves around the doorway… they read “Awakening Imagination for Transformation.”

nature motif mosaic, mosaic art, tree with hawk mosaic

mosaic art on broadway, butterfly mosaic, flowers mosaic, oakland mosaic art

mosaic art, nature motif mosaic, mosaic doorway on broadway

It was unclear to me what the business was… there’s a psychic next door to the left; the doorway itself has signs for a notary. I googled the address and came up with the University of Creation Spirituality. I’m not sure if this college still exists at this location, but this is clearly the origin of the mosaic as the detail in tile below reads “UCS 2002.” Other than that, I see no artist’s signature for this amazing creation.

oakland mosaic art, mosaic doorway broadway oakland

Gateway at SFO

Hi peeps!  I’m back from vacation and excited to get back into the swing of writing here…

I thought I would post more while in Mexico, but what can I say?  The margaritas washed away my lucidity? The humidity locked up my keyboard? A pelican ate my notes?

Whatever the case, I’m back and ready to get crackin’.  I still have some historical figures I’d like to focus on later this week to wrap up Black History Month, but today I want to share an amazing art installation I came across on my way out of town.

No, it’s not in Oakland, but it is just across the bay at the stunning San Francisco International Terminal of SFO (designed by architect Craig Hartman, the same creative force behind our ultra-modern Cathedral of Christ the Light)… so we’ll give a little shout out to the West Bay for a change.

The following pictures are of a permanent mural project entitled “Gateway” by Korean born and New York City based artist Ik-Joong Kang. It was commissioned and installed in 2000, and though I’ve been through this terminal numerous times since then, strangely have never seen it before. I love it.

gateway, Ik-Joong kang, SFO airport art

3" paintings, mixed media, gateway

The mural contains 5,265 unique 3″ x 3″ paintings, wood carvings, tiles, and cast acrylic cubes [with found objects]. The artist began working in this format when he was a student and commuted long distances to various part-time jobs. The 3″ canvases were small enough for him to carry in his backpack and paint on the subway!” (San Francisco Arts Commission plaque)

ik-joong kang, mixed media art, acrylic castings, 3 inch paintings

3 inch tiles, 3 inch paintings, gateway, art installation at SFO, ik-joong kang

The nature of this piece is exemplary for Kang, as he is known for large scale mosaic-like installations composed from many smaller pieces. These individual “tiles” comprise snapshots of language, religion, and culture that, when juxtaposed and stitched together, create a complex and shimmering representation. There is a great in-depth article about Kang and his work at CultureBase.

art installation at SFO, mixed media art, 3 inch tiles, 3 inch paintings