When Howard F. Ahmanson, Sr. of Home Savings built a bank on the Rose Parade route at Colorado Blvd. and Lake Ave., two California icons, the Tournament of Roses and artist Millard Sheets, came together to create a stunning piece of public art. Tournament of Roses, 1890, a 10 foot by 72 foot mural, was painted in 1963 with the assistance of Susan Hertel and mounted on a curved sweep of wall above the tellers.
“He loved the integral part of art,” his son Tony Sheets, an artist in his own right with 22 public works on display, told Examiner. They weren’t just put on a wall; “They were designed into the building.”
The bank building was replaced and changed hands twice—first to Washington Mutual and then to Chase. “WaMu kept in close contact with me, because they knew what they had,” Tony said. Chase didn’t, so Tony went to the manager of the branch, gave him his card, and told him “to send it up the chain.” That was on a Thursday. The following Monday, he got a call from the director of the art collection in New York, who hired him as a consultant.
The story the removal and eventual reclamation of the mural under the California Art Protection Act (CAPA) is told in “Millard Sheets mural of Rose Parade may be removed from Pasadena bank” and “Millard Sheets Rose Parade mural to be installed at Pasadena City College.”
After adventure and uncertainty, Tournament of Roses, 1890 found a benefactor in the City of Pasadena Cultural Affairs Division and a home at Pasadena City College (PCC). The mural was installed in the east lobby of the Hutto-Patterson Gymnasium on the Pasadena City College campus last January, for the first time appearing in its full length since the original bank building was demolished.
A Pasadena icon finds a home
A gift to the city from Tony Sheets and on loan to PCC for three years with option for extension, the mural was dedicated in a ceremony on May 22, 2014 in an event attended by dignitaries from the city and college as well as the younger Sheets.
“This city has embraced public art through all ages of its history,” Vincent P. Bertoni, Director of Planning and Community Development for PCC, said. The six years it took to get the mural to PCC was “a labor of love.”
The work depicts a stylized vision of the first Rose Parade, which is limited neither by history nor location. The participants—a marching band, equestrians in Spanish and Arabian dress, beautiful princesses in white gowns, rose-bedecked carriages—reflect not only the parades of the late 19th century, but on into the present, as well.
The entourage passes before landmark buildings from a Victorian mansion to City Hall, some of which are on actually on the route and some of which aren’t, and some of which were not yet built in 1890. City Hall was completed three decades later.
Saving unique works of public art
Millard Sheets painted the mural in oil on 20 walnut veneer panels, which required extensive restoration due to sunlight exposure, age, and lack of maintenance. Tony Sheets was in charge of restoration. “I’ve become the gatekeeper of his art,” he told Examiner.
He has saved six other of his father’s murals and has found homes for all but one. The Death of Travis, depicting the battle of the Alamo, rightly belongs in San Antonio, so he is looking for an appropriate place for the 22 foot by 30 foot piece.
“Painting on walnut was a whole new approach,” he said. “The color on the faces is from the walnut.” It had faded at the bank, and he needed to get back the color, so after putting a protective coat, he stained it.
“It was totally botched,” he said. Fortunately, CAPA compliance requires that all new work be removable, so he was able to go back and do it correctly—with the assistance of artist Nick Brown, an intern for Sheets who grew up in the cabinet business. Brown’s father was able to figure out that the stain was a translucent water-based acrylic and apply it properly. “It takes a special talent to do it in an even manner,” Sheets said.
Of being a cabinet maker and an artist, Brown told us, “The combination of the two came in handy.” Though he had known little about Millard Sheets until he worked with Tony, he was awed to work on the mural, “following his brushstrokes.”
Long walls and no touching
Though the location, down a narrow hall east from the main entrance to the Hutto-Patterson Gymnasium, is not as accessible as the bank, Terry Tornek, city councilman for PCC’s district noted wryly, “Nobody goes to banks anymore, it’s all done online.” He added more seriously, "I thank PCC Foundation and Trustees for creating a new home.”
Finding an appropriate venue to mount the work was a major hurdle. As conservator and donor of the art, Tony insisted that the panels had to be mounted in one continuous sweep as originally intended, and the preservation of the mural meant it had to be sited where it could not be touched. Even so, the rightmost panels had to be mounted around on a corner at a right angle to the rest of the mural.
Associate Dean Joe Futtner, School of Visual, Media and Performing Arts, said that he had looked long for a location in the new Center for the Arts across the walkway, but “the Center for the Arts had no place where people couldn’t get their hands on it.”
He observed that in this location, it bridges the two disciplines. “It goes straight from Robinson Stadium, our little Rose Bowl, to the Arts Center,” he said, and others noted that the PCC Court of Champions opens off the hallway towards the stadium.
Robert Miller, speaking as both a member of the Tournament of Roses Executive Committee and Senior Vice President and Assistant Superintendent, Business and College Services, said, it is especially meaningful to him for PCC to display the art. “Dean Futtner protected it almost with his life as we decided where it was going to go,” he said.
“I could not be happier to be here today for this event and to provide a location for this mural. PCC is the only facility on the Rose Parade route with a wall long enough. It turns a corner like the Rose Parade. I invite you back as often as you can to take in this work.”
For photos of the event and mural, see the slideshow attached to this article. Photos by Star-News photojournalist Walt Mancini are here.
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