Sunday, July 15, 2012

Charles Kassler

Andrew Dasburg and Charles Kassler outdoors, ca. 1935 / unidentified photographer. Andrew Dasburg and Grace Mott Johnson papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

Charles Kassler, who had studied art at Princeton, traveled extensively, and apprenticed under a fresco painter in France, completed “Pastoral California” the large mural on the western wall of Plummer Auditorium in 1934.  The mural, like many of the buildings at Fullerton College, was commissioned by the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression.   The WPA gave over eight million unemployed Americans jobs in its eight-year existence.  “Pastoral California” was one of the two largest frescoes commissioned by the WPA. 
The mural depicts historical figures like Jose Antonio Yorba, a large landowner whom Yorba Linda is named after, and Pio Pico, the last Mexican governor of California.  Five years after it was completed, the Fullerton High School Board of Trustees voted that the mural be painted over.  “Pastoral California” remained painted over for 58 years until, in 1997 it was restored, thanks to a massive community effort.  
“Kassler has adhered not only to the beautiful traditions of pastoral California, but at the same time has also borne in mind the splendid Spanish architecture, and, lastly, created a beautiful fresco of amazing vitality and freshness of viewpoint.” 
--LA Times art critic Merle Armitage (quoted by Plummer)
"It was too Mexican, that's why.  The school board didn't want to leave the impression that this town was anything else but Anglos. Too extreme for them, I guess." 
--Charles Hart, FUHS student when the mural was completed (quoted by Cruz)
"The school board was very conservative, and they were very much offended by it.”  
--Larry Myers, FUHS foreign-languages teacher when Kassler's work was first unveiled (quoted by Cruz) 
“Some people felt it was vulgar or gross in some way.  It simply showed the Mexican women as they were probably attired at that time.  They were very bosomy women.  I don’t think that we would feel that there was anything wrong with it.  I never felt there was.” 
--H. Lynn Sheller, former Fullerton College President

Photo of “Pastoral California” by Jesse La Tour. 2012.


Cruz, Mimi Ko. “The Renaissance of a Fullerton Mural.” The Los Angeles Times. 7 September 1997.
“High School Mural Doomed; Paint it Out, Trustees Order.” Fullerton News-Tribune. 30 August 1939. Microfilm. Courtesy Launer Local History Room, Fullerton Public Library.
Plummer, Louis. A history of the Fullerton Union High School and Fullerton Junior College, 1893-1943. Fullerton: Fullerton Junior College Press. 1949.

For a longer article about "Pastoral California" please click HERE.

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