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Subject: "Bernard Zakheim (1896-1985) - Coit Tower"     Previous Topic | Next Topic
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"Bernard Zakheim (1896-1985) - Coit Tower"
This interior of a public library balances the law library by Harris at far left. Like other artists, Zakheim peopled his scene (public library reading and periodical rooms) with portraits, including his young daughter Ruth (in a blue and white middy blouse) and a self portrait reading the Tenach, the Old Testament in Hebrew.

Above the window are three books lying on their sides in the central stack; their Hebrew letters spell out the contents: Torah (Scriptures), Prophets, and Wisdom Literature, books of the Old Testament. His "gun-slit" window invites the viewer up the steps into the library containing classical authors like Defoe, Smollett, Fielding, Swift, and Oscar Wilde, as well as writers of the 1930s like Dos Passos, Jeffers, Stuart Chase, and Kenneth Rexroth, the young poet who supplied most of the authors' names, here shown on the library ladder.

Bernard Baruch Zakheim arrived in San Francisco in 1920 seeking political asylum, as he could not return to his native Poland after World War I. An upholsterer by trade, he had begun art studies in Europe and continued them at the Mark Hopkins Art Institute (later called the California School of Fine Arts, and today, the San Francisco Art Institute). Having won by competition the first fresco project in a building with public access in San Francisco, the Jewish Community Center, he, together with Ralph Stackpole, had the prestige necessary to organize the artists to ask for a federally sponsored art project. Although he would rather have painted the street scene at the Tower, he was able to make the “innocuous” library a vehicle for the message that he wanted to communicate. On Harris's “authors” list, he is credited with Married Women. After Coit Tower, he portrayed Community Spirit for the Alemany Health Center (1934), and then undertook the four year task of illustrating the history of medicine at the University of California Medical Center (1935-38). In 1938 he painted oil murals for post offices in Texas. In 1961 Zakheim returned to Poland to do a 6- by 25-foot fresco called The History of the Jews Through Song. Toward the end of his life he began sculpturing in wood and granite in his Sebostopol, California, orchard. Continuing the themes of human suffering and protest that have long motivated him, he carved six large figures in wood on the subject of the Holocaust, called Genocide (1966). About working with wood Zakheim has written: "With chisel the artist unveils the beautiful calligraphy nature has embedded like grain in the wood.... The Sculptor's blood from wounds gives life to the wood."

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