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Iconic San Francisco mural gets facelift

Artist recruits students to help with project

Johanna Poethig has been making public art in San Francisco since the 1980s. This summer, the professor in CSUMB’s Visual and Public Art Department is “re-making” a mural she created in 1992, and employing students in the effort.

Staff members from the San Francisco Human Services Agency contacted her about restoring her mural, “To Cause to Remember,” better known as the Statue of Liberty mural. It’s located on the side of a homeless shelter in the city’s South of Market district.

On the 40-foot by 80-foot wall, Lady Liberty lies on her side with chains on her feet and her hand outstretched.

Poethig said on her blog:

“Everyone who comments on the mural mentions the chains first of all. . . . This symbol, the fallen Liberty, speaks to the issues of poverty, immigration, mental illness, incarceration, drugs, war veterans, families and the elderly.

“The image has been published in books about street art. In my 30-year career as a muralist and public artist, this work of art has weathered the test of time. The Liberty in recline has proven herself to really mean something to the people who live with her chains and to those who remember what she means.”

Poethig enlisted the help of her students Matthew Floriani and Jorge Amezcua. It’s not the first foray into public art for Floriani – for his capstone project, he created a mural for the Marina Skate Park. And he took a page from Poethig’s book by enlisting the help of youngsters from the Marina Teen Center and Los Arboles Middle School.

Floriani had never worked on scaffolding or on such a large project. "I learned how to work with a team . . . and I learned to work quickly and precisely," he said.

It was also Amezcua's first experience working on such a large scale. And while he spent some time earlier this summer helping with a project at the Monterey Museum of Art, he had never worked on a restoration. He learned a valuable lesson.

"As an artist, I have always wanted complete control of every detail of my projects. But the more I get into pubic art, the more I realize . . . the amount of work that goes into large scale murals is so great in terms of physical demand and danger that there is simply no way to do it without a crew.

"As crewmembers, it is our job to realize the artist's vision and that includes working from the artist's design," he said. "It feels good to have an artist like Johanna trust me enough to work with her crew."

Photos courtesy of Johanna Poethig

Top photo: The mural before restoration

Below (left to right): Jorge Amezcua, Johanna Poethig and Matthew Floriani spend part of their summer restoring the Statue of Liberty mural first unveiled in 1992.

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