Talk of the Mission: A new Mona Caron Mural on 21st St.
On Wednesday, November 16th, Mona Caron, the muralist whose work graces walls from Bolivia to Noe Valley was up on some scaffolding painting a mural, her 8th in San Francisco, for Pedal Revolution, the bike shop at 3085 21st St. that doubles as a non-profit job training program for youth. It was a cold day, with a sharp wind blowing from the north. Caron’s abundant brown hair was stuffed under a knit cap, and her nose was red. “It’s so cold!” she exclaimed. “And my nose keeps running!”
Pedal Revolution provides basic job skills for “disconnected” youth. “We don’t use the term at-risk,” said Steve Fiduccia, the general manager. “Some of them have no contact with their family and some are homeless.”
Pedal Revolution, and New Door Ventures, the parent non-profit, take in about 100 interns every year, who need training in the basics: resume building and time management among other skills. “You gotta show up to work on time,” observed Fiduccia. “We’re not trying to turn out a lot of bike mechanics; we’re trying to get them to be employable, so that they can get jobs.”
Pedal Revolution is housed in a Mission Style revival building, built in 1921. The exterior needed a bit of prep work, which uncovered some historic detail: a tradename, which was hard to see, under the scaffolding. “Mona liked that there was some of that detail on the building,” Fiduccia told me. “We think it was owned by a man named Muzio. It’s the name of the guy who used to own the liquor store across the street. We think he owned this building as well.”
It isn’t clear that the Muzio’s owned the building, though perhaps they were customers of the Superba Packing Company, Ltd., a food manufactory specializing in canned food, a firm so confident of the future of prepared food that they sponsored an exhibition kitchen at the Golden Gate International Exposition, held on Treasure Island from 1939 to 1940.
There’s no evidence now of the building’s foodie past, save for the barely discernable lettering on the façade. What was the theme of the mural or the name? Fiduccia didn’t know, but was looking forward to being pleasantly surprised. “We wanted some kind of bike theme. We discussed it a bit and let her run with it. She said something about pedals and plants representing growth.” He looked pensive. “Maybe we should think about a name.”
The mural, which is likely to be finished sometime in mid-December, is currently in its blue period: delft, sky, and cobalt blue mostly. “It won’t stay this way,” Caron told me. “The colors will be tweaked. It’s going to be a complicated color scheme when it’s done. Part of me really likes the drama of painting in a public space. People want to know what it will look like and I want them to wait!” She smiled as she daubed colors onto the wall. “I want them to be surprised.”
Mona Caron at work. Photo by Elizabeth Creely
Caron’s murals usually carry some narration with them, but that wasn’t the case with this mural. “This is not going to be as deeply layered as some of my other murals. This mural is going to celebrate the role of Pedal Revolution in the neighborhood. I want to show the goodness kind of exploding.
“Everything is centered around the big garage door,” she said gesturing toward the door at the entrance of the shop. “There will be a scattering of bright petals near the ground.” Then, she laughed. “I guess I just told you what it will look like! It’s going to be a happy mural for a change.”
Caron’s murals are never unhappy: thought-provoking maybe, but never grim, and fairly upbeat about the resilience of the natural world: rather than referencing the end of civilization, she depicts a successfully re-claimed future. In it, “spontaneous urban vegetation, ” produces dandelions, nettles and fireweed that uproot the concrete barrens of cities and transform urban spaces into livable commons. “All of my murals have so much story in them, so much narrative. Here, the place itself is the story and I’m just adding an exclamation point.”
She carefully painted the petal of what looked like a large dahlia with cornflower blue paint. It had been one week and one day since America elected Donald Trump as President. Was it helpful to paint murals during a time of political upheaval? “It’s work. But it’s nice to do something outdoors, with your hands and get lost in it.”
She stroked the blue over the surface, put down the brush and picked up another, which she used to outline the petal with a cobalt-blue border. “It’s good to do something happy and celebratory in gloomy times.”
Photo by Elizabeth Creely