Academy of Art University Beautifies the Tenderloin
Thanks to the efforts of Academy of Art University students and faculty, the corner of Mason and Eddy Street in the San Francisco Tenderloin district has been transformed. Depicted on the stucco wall of the Bristol Hotel, is a scene from the interior of a supper club located there in the early 20th century, when the area drew crowds for entertainment and dining.
The Academy team’s recently completed mural, is about 13 x 30 feet in size and was inspired by a postcard from around 1910, explained Academy instructor Carol Nunnelly. She along with her colleague Martha Wade directed the effort for a Fall 2012 mural class with five students from the Academy’s School of Fine Art. The mural shows Rigo Jancsi, a gypsy violinist originally from Hungary who was a popular draw at the club.
“He ended up in SF and played in a vibrant neighborhood that was considered upscale in comparison to the Barbary Coast entertainment district,” Nunnelly recounts, adding that there is a cake named after him called the Jancsi Torta. “Customers who came to the Breakers Café were treated to music and dinner. The Opera House was just across the street.”
The postcard spurred the Uptown Tenderloin Association to launch a collaborative project with Academy of Art University.
The class is designed to be a real world project where students can use skills learned in classes in fine art painting, illustration and design to make money,” Nunnelly says.
“Applying skills toward a business in painting is a key reason the class is held," Nunnelly continued. "Students learned how to paint a mural, how to work with clients, how to estimate and manage materials and a budget … as well as meeting a deadline.”
The five students — Jae Chan Lee, Amanda Plummer, Layla Skramstad, Katrina Valdez and Michael Wiens — were aware that the client, the Bristol Hotel, was to pay for paint, and that they were working on a project intended to beautify the area.
The project was pursued in the spirit of Toulouse Lautrec. Like Lautrec, who was known for working with revelers and people of the night, the students had a close-up experience working with a colorful cast of characters who make the sidewalk their home.
“Murals can bring to life a past era,” Nunnelly says. But she also notes that the rich history of the neighborhood contrasts with the gritty surroundings and people there today. “The locals are just as colorful and interesting as the mural subjects straight out of 1910. A friendly attitude goes a long way here."
“We experienced so many people who expressed their appreciation for the talented artists, and the compliments flowed each day we painted,” says Nunnelly.
Although the influence of the mural on the area might be unknown, Nunnelly says, "Where there is hope, beauty and a meeting of people, there is the possibility that violence, pain and disappointment will not prevail.”