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Sketch of Early Chicano Mural Discovered

A sketch of a Santa Ana mural has been discovered, and with it comes documentation of Siqueiros' "American Tropical" as being not an apex of Mexican murals, but the beginning of political idealism of contemporary Chicano art.

The late Chicano Art Activist and Professor Shifra Goldman collected political posters, and throughout her career she donated them to the Center For The Study of Political Graphics (CSPG) in Los Angeles. After Goldman passed away in September 2011, family were gathering the remaining archives to donate to CSPG when they discovered the 7' x 11 '11 sketch in storage, packed away in plastic -- a colored pencil sketch under a few layers of wrapping tissue paper, said Carol Wells, CSPG founder and Executive Director, (and recently noted in OCWeekly)

Excited about the unsigned piece, still wrapped, Wells took photos and showed them to anyone with a clue to who the artist may be. "It was (muralist) Willie Herron who said "Oh, I know who did that,'" said Wells, who since then contacted the family of the artist, the late Sergio O'Cadiz. Later, after the frame arrived, the piece was unwrapped and the artist was identified on a notation on the back of the fragile piece.

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Ruben Salazar detail I Photo courtesy CSPGThe art shows a cultural tie to the Chicano Art Movement that Goldman dedicated her career to position in U.S. academia. Her archives included papers on Siqueiros' 1932 "América Tropical," which she is credited as rediscovering in 1968, and led to her initial preservation efforts, and protecting the mural from merely being repainted.

Also, In 1971 Goldman approached Siqueiros for a new mural derived from the original, to which he agreed "but the plan was thwarted by the artist's death in 1974," according to the California Ethnic and Multicultural Archives.

Also in 1974, members of Santa Ana College MEChA -- inspired by Goldman, who was then teaching Mexican and Chicano Art -- took a field trip to the growing art scene in East Los Angeles and Boyle Heights to research murals, wrote Guisela Latorre in "Empowerment: Chicana/O Indigenist Murals of California" (2008). Ideas for a new mural to present Mexican and Chicano History was developed by students and staff, and was designed and drawn by O'Cadiz.

The most striking part of the piece, in both mural and preliminary sketch, is the José Guadalupe Posada calavera centerpiece wearing a pachuco-like hat with feather, instead of customary sombrero. Nearby is a nod to Siqueiros' 1932 image of an Indian crucifixion, next to a woman praying with a covered face. Also in the sketch, confirming it was not an afterthought, is the name of Ruben Salazar, the L.A. Times reporter killed during the Chicano Moratorium in 1970.

That is striking for 1974.

It is also an early use of themes in art pushed forward by political narrative in site-specific mural work.

"The state of two martyrs in one piece," interprets Wells of the cross reference of symbolic imagery. Goldman herself observed that the tie with the woman praying on her knees near a field made it a holy trinity of the early Chicano story in the U.S.: Indigenous culture lost, labor's struggle, and a contemporary urban voice silenced.

"It's a gorgeous piece," says Wells of the sketch now hanging in the offices of the Center for Political Study, and said it may make a public appearance in a retrospective, now only in the planning stages, on the late Sergio O'Cadiz.

"History and Evolution of the Chicano in the United States," sometimes known as the MEChA Mural, is still at home at the Neally Library at Santa Ana College.

MEChA mural sketch by Sergio O'Cadiz I Photo courtesy CSPG

Above: Portion of 1974 mural sketch for "History and Evolution of the Chicano in the United States" by Sergio O'Cadiz and Santa Ana College MEChA students. Photos courtesy of Carol Wells of Center For The Study of Political Graphics.

About the Author

Ed Fuentes is an arts journalist, photographer, graphic designer, and digital muralist who covers a variety of topics and geographies in Southern California for KCET.
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