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Guillermo Wagner Granizo: Making "The Monterey Mural" - The Original Monterey Walking Tours
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Guillermo Wagner Granizo: Making “The Monterey Mural”

A History of Monterey by Guillermo Wagner Granizo

The Monterey Mural

(All photos by author. Click on photo to enlarge. Close-up views and descriptions follow below.)

During the renovation of the Monterey Conference Center “The Monterey Mural” was removed, tile by tile, and stored away. The mural was recently re-installed near its former location.

The Monterey Mural, by artist Guillermo Wagner Granizo, occupies the southwest corner of the Monterey Conference Center, commanding the intersection of Del Monte Avenue and Pacific Street. At 9 feet by 45 feet it may be the city’s largest piece of art and is certainly among its most beautiful.

Granizo’s mural – more accurately, a mosaic comprised of hundreds of hand-painted tiles – is a colorfully illustrated time line of the history of Monterey, from the native Rumsien population 5000 years ago through 1983. A critic would be hard pressed to discover a significant person, event or site somehow omitted by the artist.

At the dedication ceremony of his mural on March 27, 1984 Granizo commented “This work shows the activities of people from the very beginning of life here to the present day. Included is every type of person: carefree Indians, merchants, photographers and honky-tonk vendors.” [1]

The large crowd of citizens and dignitaries who attended the unveiling praised the piece quite highly [2], but the local art critic was more grudging in his praise. “…the mural could be a pleasant visual interlude. On the other hand…people might wonder if the mural’s designer was forced to by-pass some art factors…”[3] The anonymous writer pedantically exposed some perceived sins regarding the use of specific colors and color balance as viewed from afar, but conceded “It’s an ideal style for close up viewing.”[4]

From near or far, the Monterey Bay is front and center – and constant throughout time. The bay brings riches and conquerors, settlers and merchandise, bounty and recreation. Less noticeable is Granizo’s technique of depicting human figures larger in the early panels but smaller as history moves forward. Granizo saw this as indicative of population growth[5], and this trick does appear to accelerate time as it approaches the modern era.

Even as Granizo created and completed The Monterey Mural, he raced to finish a project twice as large. The Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee commissioned Granizo for “Olympic Fantasy”; 23 feet by 94 feet, this piece is on the Physical Education Building at Cal State LA, site of the 1984 Olympic Judo competitions[6].

Guillermo Wagner Granizo was a San Francisco native, born William Wagner in 1923. His mother was Nicaraguan and his father had ties to Germany. As a boy, young William lived for 11 years in Central America – a time many credit for his appreciation of ceramic art.

This was not a happy time for the boy. In an interview with reporter David Holbrook [7] Granizo characterized his father as a fraud and a charlatan, leading unsuspecting tourists on archeological digs to sites in Nicaragua where he had previously seeded Indian “artifacts”. Additionally, Wagner Sr. was an “ardent admirer” of Adolf Hitler, and forced William to attend a German school in Guatemala. William felt lost and completely out of place. [8]

Granizo served in the US Army during World War II and was wounded during the D-Day invasion of Normandy Following his recuperation he graduated from the San Francisco College of Art. He was the Art Director for KRON-TV in San Francisco in the 1950’s, and then began producing documentary films, primarily featuring artists such as Rufino Tamayo, Francisco Zuniga and Jose Luis Cuevas.

In the 1970’s, Granizo turned his full attentions to the study and creation of colorful glazes and ceramic tiles. He established a studio in Ben Lomond, a rustic community in the Santa Cruz Mountains southwest of San Jose, and commissions for both public and private murals soon came his way. Granizo remained busy until the end, completing a mural in Pleasanton, CA just weeks before his death in November 1995 [9].

The name change from Bill Wagner was part back to his roots and part savvy marketing ploy. Guillermo is the Spanish translation of William and Granizo was his mother’s maiden name. “I can sell a lot more paintings under the name Granizo than Bill Wagner”, he joked.[10]

2013-12-19 09.38.31On the left, at the start of the time line, Granizo shows the Rumsiens, the native population. Life is good in California – they’re happy and naked, and fish and game abound. By the 1500’s, however, European explorers arrive, changing the their lives forever.

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Father Serra, left, says mass under an oak tree on the water’s edge, surrounded by Portola and his men, and the mission in Monterey is established in June of 1770. The military expanded Spain’s empire while the Padres converted the natives to Catholicism, saved their souls and put them to work in the mission system. At the right corner of the church Fray Serra admires his flock, but to the left a soldier is canoogling with a local girl. Unhappy about the fraternization, Serra separated the mission from the army by moving to the mouth of the Carmel River, five miles away.

At the top, Hippolyte Bouchard attacks Monterey in 1818, landing a force of men that included Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders. Granizo depicts the dark-skinned men attacking the Spanish as the Padres and townspeople flee to the woods. Monterey’s famous Fandangos and bull vs bear fights are also shown lower left/center.

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In the 1830’s and 1840’s ships are bringing supplies and trade goods and new settlers. The Americans take Monterey in 1846 and by 1850 California becomes the 31st state. The white building flying the American flag is Colton Hall, site of the California Constitutional Convention.

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In something of an anachronism, Granizo shows us progress into the late 19th Century, like the trolley (bottom), the Doubletree (now Portola) Hotel from the 1970’s, the Custom House from the 1820’s, and the Sloat Monument from 1910. Old Monterey is over run by progress.

In an homage to famous Monterey events, Granizo salutes the Bach and Jazz Festivals, singers and photographers, auto races at Laguna Seca, tennis players, golfers and, among the spectators, Dennis the Menace – creation of Monterey resident Hank Ketchum.

For some reason, Granizo placed Bing Crosby, SFB Morse of the Del Monte / Pebble Beach Company and John Steinbeck together in a hot air balloon over Cannery Row (upper right in mural)

2013-12-19 09.40.14Finally, Granizo completes the mural with fishing and canning, the Coast Guard pier, and then the conversion to tourist spots on Cannery Row and Fisherman’s Wharf. The bay is now full of recreational craft and tourists crowd the waterfront. Not depicted in the The Monterey Mural: the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which opened just after the mosaic was installed.

[1] “The Peninsula’s New Attraction” by Mary and Richard Rodriquez, Monterey Peninsula (CA) Herald, July 1984

[2] “Applause Greets New Monterey Mural” by Joe Graziano. Monterey Peninsula (CA) Herald, March 28, 1984

[3] “Colorful New Mural Aimed at Monterey Walkers” by Herald Art Critic,Monterey Peninsula (CA) Herald, April 8, 1984

[4] “Colorful New Mural Aimed at Monterey Walkers” by Herald Art Critic, Monterey Peninsula (CA) Herald, April 8, 1984

[5] “Applause Greets New Monterey Mural” by Joe Graziano, Monterey Peninsula (CA) Herald, March 28, 1984

[6] July 15,2011

[7] “Portrait Of The Artist As A Tile Magician”, by David Holbrook, Valley Times (Pleasanton, CA) October 9, 1995

[8] “Portrait Of The Artist As A Tile Magician”, by David Holbrook, Valley Times (Pleasanton, CA) October 9, 1995

[9] “Civic Park Sculptor Guillermo Granizo Dies” by David Holbrook, Valley Times (Pleasanton, CA) November 10, 1995

[10] “Portrait Of The Artist As A Tile Magician”, by David Holbrook, Valley Times (Pleasanton, CA) October 9, 1995

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