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Portrait of the Artists

March 06, 1994

I was very much pleased with Christopher Knight's article "Two Murals, Two Histories" (Feb. 20). Knight deals with an aspect of these murals in the context of their times and socio-political-economic (did I leave out anything?) realities, which no one else (to my knowledge) has attempted.

This is especially interesting to me since I worked as a "gofer" for Dean Cornwell on the Central Library murals from June, 1931, to March, 1933, at age 19 to 21.

An interesting sidelight to Knight's story is the fact that Cornwell spent a number of evenings in the Olvera Street class to learn the fresco technique. He painted two heads on brick newel posts at the top of a wooden stairway outside the adjacent building. I don't recall his saying anything about David Alfaro Siqueiros or even meeting him. However, some details escape me after 61 years.

Knight's comments about the library murals are much kinder than those of the critics at the time of their completion. As he points out, the Cornwell murals were conceived and commissioned by the Establishment at the height of the real estate-stock market euphoria, and completed after the stock market crash of October, 1929.

I cannot speak too warmly about Cornwell's kindness to me, as he encouraged me to persevere in pursuing a career in illustration.

JOHN P. SPENCER

Pasadena

Getty Conservation Institute consultant Luis Garza, who is coordinating the conservation program for the Siqueiros mural, says that a review of documents prompted by Knight's article shows that Cornwell was in fact among several artists whom Siqueiros taught the fresco technique while working on the Olvera Street mural.

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I was thrilled to read Knight's article about my uncle David Alfaro Siqueiros. He was sure of the statement and power in the mural and at the same time enjoyed, in retrospect, the irony and humor the incident created early in his career as a muralist.

It was during his stay in Los Angeles that David became very involved with Angelica Arenal (his future wife) and Luis Arenal, my father, also a painter, who went on to work with David on many of his murals.

The power of David's art and personality has yet to be felt in this country, but this is a beginning, and he would have been delighted to know that his work is finally going to be seen here.

This was not David's only work in L.A. There is another mural, in the house once owned by director Dudley Murphy in Pacific Palisades. It is still there.

JULIE ARENAL

Los Angeles

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