The Case of the Reappearing Mural

Now that cooler weather and darker evenings are here, haunted houses, hay rides, and ghost tours abound in Southern California. The city of Fullerton, located thirty miles south of Los Angeles (and a convenient half-hour train ride from Union Station) offers “haunted” walking tours within its downtown area. One fascinating spot rumored to have paranormal activity is Plummer Auditorium, part of the Fullerton High School campus, where witnesses claim to have seen ghosts watching the stage from the balcony. But it was something outside the auditorium that really caught my eye: a large wall mural entitled Pastoral California by Charles Kassler.

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Murals such as these were very common. To combat the high unemployment rate and faltering American spirit of the Great Depression, President Roosevelt created a series of social/economic programs called the New Deal; artists like Kessler were hired under the Public Works of Art Program, designed to inform the public by showing art in public buildings and by displaying works of an American scene. The US government also hired artists for other New Deal programs; Dorothea Lange documented the effects of the Dust Bowl and Great Depression for the Farm Security Administration, and Lester Beall designed energy posters (which were on display in the American Art galleries this past year) to promote the use of electricity in the agricultural states.

Kassler’s Pastoral California (1934) reveals the history of southern California at the time. Painted over just five years later—it was considered inappropriate by school officials—the mural was eventually discovered and fully restored in 1997. Pastoral California depicts a scene of ranchers and animals, with evidence of Spanish Colonial Revival architecture. On the right-hand side, Kassler depicts a fight between wild animals—a bear biting viciously into a bull.

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While the origin of the bear and bull market terminology is debated, some believe it has to do with the attacking styles of each animal, and at the time the mural was painted, the triumphant bear may have revealed the artist’s pessimistic assessment of the economy at the time.

The Fullerton Haunted Walking Tour continues until November 6, but if you’re interested in other works of art created under the New Deal closer to Los Angeles, you can check them out here. And if you already have a local favorite, please comment!

Devi Noor

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