Skip to main content

Historic Victor Arnautoff Mural Re-Discovered Richmond Museum of History


Historic Victor Arnautoff Mural Re-Discovered Richmond Museum of History

Lost Artwork by WPA Artist and Diego Rivera Protégé Found in Basement of Richmond Post Office after 40 Years in Storage

Nathan Zakheim, Son of Artist Bernard Zakheim Who Escaped Nazis, Tucked Away Artwork in 1976

Media contact: David Perry & Associates, Inc / (415) 676-7007 /

29 September 2015 — Richmond, CA: Call it Indiana Jones meets the WPA. This week, an historic piece of Richmond’s cultural heritage by noted artist Victor Arnautoff, a protégé of Diego Rivera, thought lost to the ages, will be carefully unrolled at the Richmond Museum of History ( Rediscovered earlier this month, the mural portraying pre-WWII Richmond, will undergo several months of delicate restoration following almost 40 years under wraps. For decades prominently displayed in the main branch of the Richmond Post Office, the mural was packed away and forgotten in 1976 by Nathan Zakheim, son of artist Bernard Zakheim, a friend and colleague of both Arnautoff and Rivera.

“This is a proud moment for Richmond, ” said Beth Javens, Executive Director of the Richmond Convention & Visitors Bureau who has been working behind the scenes to secure the mural’s restoration and re-exhibition. “This is exactly the sort of project we were designed to support, highlight and celebrate. Our hats are off to the Richmond Museum and everyone involved in this effort. ”

The latest chapter in the mural’s history began In October 2014 when Richmond Museum of History Director Melinda McCrary was chatting with the Fran Cappelletti, volunteer librarian for the Ross Historical Society. Cappelletti, originally from Richmond and a self-described “huge WPA era art enthusiast”, told McCrary about a mural, supposedly by “a famous artist” and now lost, that used to grace the walls of the Richmond Post Office.

“The conversation piqued my interest,” recalls McCrary. “I just had a feeling that we were onto something big. ”

After making inquires with her board president, John Ziesenhenne, she was put in touch with the former Richmond postmaster, Al Martinez, who in turn put her in touch with a janitor, Earic Bohanon, who worked at the post office.

“Earic went poking around the basement and found a huge crate in a room with no lights,” says McCrary. “The crate was clearly marked as the mural packed by Nathan Zakheim in October 1976. ”

“The United States Postal Services is extremely proud to be able to make this piece of history available to the people of Richmond, ” said Augustine ‘Gus’ Ruiz from the USPS. After its restoration, the mural will be on long term loan to the Richmond Museum of History.

Arnautoff, who was faculty at Stanford and worked under Diego Rivera, was also a primary artist on San Francisco’s Coit Tower, internationally famed for its priceless WPA era murals. Arnautoff was commissioned to paint five post office murals throughout the United States. Besides the recently rediscovered Richmond: The Industrial City mural, Arnautoff’s sister murals from the commission can still be seen in South San Francisco at the George Washington High School, at the Pacific Grove Post Office and at the Linden, Texas Post Office. The location of the fifth mural, originally in the Linden, Texas Post Office, is unknown.

An interesting and moving side-note to this story was the friendship between Arnautoff and his fellow artist, Bernard Zakheim. In the 1920s, Zakheim escaped anti-Jewish discrimination in Poland and immigrated to San Francisco where he eventually found work, along with Arnautoff and Rivera, on the Coit Tower project.

“Zakheim begged his family to join him, ” says McCrary. “However, they refused. All of them were killed during the Holocaust. To find out that Zakehim’s son, Nathan, was the person who helped save this piece of history was incredibly moving. ”

The Richmond Museum of History is a 501c3 nonprofit institution dedicated to preserving and exhibiting the history of Richmond and the surrounding era. Housed in the landmark architectural jewel of the 1910-built Carnegie Library, the Richmond Museum of History is one of the oldest organizations dedicated to preserving local history in west county.

“My motto for the museum is a ‘Proud Past and Proud Present for a Proud Future’,” said McCrary. “This mural is yet another example of our mission because it shows that extraordinary things can be accomplished by ordinary people right here where we live.”

Restoration of the mural is expected to take several months with McCrary hoping to display the artwork by year’s end.