Art aficionados honor George Washington High School muralist, Victor Arnautoff, for 122nd birthday

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Saturday, November 16, 2019
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Art aficionados honor George Washington High School muralist, Victor Arnautoff, for 122nd birthday.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Look around the city any day. It's like a moving mural.

And inside the entrance to Coit Tower---proof on a large wall that while times change, stories do not.

"That's Victor, here, standing next to the newsstand," said Peter Arnautoff, grandson of Victor Arnautoff, who painted the famous scene, here.

On Friday, he joined a group of public art aficionados celebrating Victor's 122nd birthday. But Friday's meeting was not so much about the mural in Coit Tower as another across town. And, it is more controversial.

"You come to school to learn. To broaden your horizons. Not to have the people you come from denigrated," said Francee Covington at a public showing in August.

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Just inside the high school's entrance, students see a mural showing colonists stepping over the dead body of a native American. And they see enslaved African Americans next to George Washington.

Arnautoff painted that in mural in 1936 as part of a WPA project. Now the school district plans to cover it up to appease those offended critics.

Hence Friday's gathering at Coit Tower. "I acknowledge that people have the right to be offended. But the solution is not to destroy it for everyone else," said Jon Golinger of the Coalition to Protect Public Art.

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"It is like a one hand clap. A very small group as far as I can see," added Lope Yap, Jr.

He graduated from George Washington High School in 1970. The mural never offended him.

As with the City Life mural in Coit Tower, he believes it portrays truth.

Victor Arnautoff says his grandfather was a socialist who identified with the victims in his murals.

"If you look at his Washington High School mural, he put the dead Indian front and center," said Peter Arnautoff.

And now, on the artist's 122nd birthday, his work has come front and center, again.