Hello everyone! I hope you enjoyed the Fourth of July.
On my jaunt through the Orange County and Los Angeles beach cities last week, I drove by this former Bank of America building designed by Paul Revere Williams, the first African American member of the AIA and a distinguished Los Angeles architect of the early-to-mid-twentieth century. (Read more about Williams’s remarkable career here and in two recentbooks by his granddaughter, Karen E. Hudson.)
The Millard Sheets Studio mosaics for the Van Nuys and Long Beach branches are done in a different style than the contemporaneous Home Savings work — and there is a comment in the studio correspondence saying that “if mural is executed in the United States add $10 per square foot,” suggesting that Williams, Sheets, or both had connections in Mexico, Italy, or elsewhere that could do the fabrication. (It is unclear where these were fabricated.)
In terms of style, both Van Nuys and Long Beach seem closely aligned with mosaics done by Ben Mayer, including those from the Norwalk Public Library on friend-of-the-blog Vickey Kalambakal’s site — check them out! The timing matches the period when Millard Sheets was becoming more involved with Interpace’s ceramic tile projects, and he seems to have broken any exclusivity deal he had had with Ahmanson and Home Savings. Mayer’s name appears in the Sheets Studio invoices for the Van Nuys location, but the affinity is also evident in the Long Beach work. UPDATE: Another colleague, Lillian Sizemore, has done research to confirm Ben Mayer was the creator, with Maurice Sands listed as design and color consultant, and has found that the Long Beach branch opened June 20, 1967. Interestingly, the (earlier?) Van Nuys branch has a Sheets signature, the Long Beach branch does not.
While the Van Nuys branch is still a Bank of America branch, the Long Beach building was most recently a music venue, and is again under renovation. One hopes the importance of the architect and the connections present in the mosaic to local and regional history will help preserve this building and its artwork.
M. Danko of socal-bank-art.blogspot.com has images that far outpace my own.
Hi Adam…looking closely at this I can see the sections are done in sure 12 x 12 inch square sections, which is an entirely different setting technique than was employed by the Sheets Studio. They used irregularly shaped sections that locked together in such a way to not show the “seams”. Also, in the BOA murals, the size of tesserae are regular and evenly spaced. At this time, (1967) the Sheets studio was employing a modernist setting technique that incorporated larger irregular B-cuts of glass and stone mixed with A-cut smalti and vitreous glass tiles. The BOA work was executed most likely by an outside studio, or by Mayer – not by Sheets’ Studios. Can you further outline the nature of Sheets involvement on both Van Nuys and Long Beach branches and why his signature would have appeared? – Williams is architect, Ben Mayer is designer, Maurice Sands was design and color consultant, and the setting obviously done elsewhere. What are your thoughts?
Yes, I think we can definitely say it was not produced in the Sheets Studio.
So what was their role? The file is thin — with Sheets only writing that he was “deeply interested” in the work, and that it would be “a great pleasure to research.” There is no itemized invoice in the file, but it suggests the Studio may have helped choose a theme and, perhaps, provide an initial design, at least for Van Nuys.
But given how it reflects Mayer’s style elsewhere, it seems hard to know exactly what they did. Perhaps, like some of the Interpace works like Disneyland, this is Sheets as art broker, connecting clients and designers/fabricators, more than Sheets as artist or even studio head.
thanks adam – How interesting that Sheets negotiated a signature on the work while working as an “art broker”. That’s clout!
So many muralists at the time were working in this abstracted-collagey-montage style; vignetting and blending story lines, historic events and geometric imagery into one larger picture. Styles were often copied from one artist to another. The bank already had a relationship with the Byzantine Mosaic Company, (based in Mexico/LA/ SF), who executed of the monumental exterior mural on the facade of the San Mateo branch, designed by Louis Macouillard, a colleague of Sheets in the CA Watercolor Society. It’s very likely these were executed by BMC as well, probably at the factory in MX, shipped in sections to CA and installed by Alfonso Pardiñas, who worked for the company as a broker, installer, and occasional designer, in LA and SF.
Bank of America employed the use of mosaics to their corporate branding earlier than Home Savings, due to their close associations with Italy. Pre-1965, all the branches had large mosaic medallions of the logo prominently placed in front of buildings. (They were formerly the Bank of Italy). Some still exist, for example in Sonoma, CA. The Van Nuys and Long Beach renovations marked a turn in the bank’s corporate identity as a modernized update. (thanks for the update Adam).
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