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“Santuario/Sanctuary” at San Francisco International Airport

Santuario is a collaborative work between Juana Alicia and Emmanuel C. Montoya, located at the new international terminal of the San Francisco International Airport. The collaborative work, a two-story fresco framed by a suite of bas relief sculptures, will be open to the public for the first time on Sunday, December 3, 2000, when over 50,000 people are expected for the day-long festivities. Our piece, entitled œSanutario/Sanctuary”, is one in a total of seventeen works of public art that were commissioned for this beautiful new building that has been declared a museum. œSantuario” is located in Gateroom 97 of Terminal G, and spans the second and third floor walls of that gateroom.

Our mixed media work honors the significant role that the San Francisco International Airport plays in the lives of Bay area residents and travelers from around the world. The artwork combines a mural in the traditional “fresco buono” technique of the Italian renaissance with a bas relief sculptural “frame” of shore birds. We have created a monumental work that has a strong visual impact when seen from a distance, but is also a “slow read”, rich enough in detail and nuance so that the viewer can spend a long time in its presence, discovering new layers and meanings. The work represents our cultural tradition in the fresco mural, which spans a millennium, from its origins in Teotihuacan to the Mexican mural movement to the contemporary Chicano mural movement, in which we have participated actively.
About the Imagery

The concepts central to our design are the themes of: migration and permanence; movement and stillness; and intimacy within a public space. The airport is often the setting for some of the most dramatic moments and milestones in our lives. In our design we honor the wonderful and significant meetings and partings that happen in the airport, to bring to the foreground and freeze those moments in time, while creating a light-filled context of movement, flow of life and the energy of travel.

We are in some ways creating a mirror of the airport’s interior and exterior environments: human activity framed by the natural surroundings of San Bruno Mountain, Candlestick Park and the Bay. Bas relief shore birds encircle the entire scene, creating a frame of flight. The airport is in a geographic location that was once bay wetlands, a “migratory resting spot” for the multitudes of pelicans, avocets, cormorants, redwing blackbirds and egrets to name just a few. With their presence, we wish to remind people of the original inspiration for flight and to draw a parallel between the migrations of humanity and those of the natural world. We are honoring the movement in the universe: the motion and emotion associated with travel and with growth.

The architectural decoration on either sides of the windows echoes the “real” birds, and the circular form at the top of the space implies a sun, a planet or the circle of life itself.

It has often been said that flight is the dream of humanity: in the movement created from the small child being tossed into the air, to the feather-like flight of a paper airplane, the fantasy is fulfilled!

The large figures in the immediate foreground are also musing, in a dreamlike state: the young woman moves toward the viewer, absorbed in her thoughts, which are echoed in the figures behind her. The elderly gentleman moves into the scene, contemplating both past and future. We seek to represent not only the diversity of the international communities that visit San Francisco, but also our own citizenry, rich in its own diversity, a hybrid of cultures that form the new, transforming nature of culture on the Pacific Rim.

The mother and son meeting in traditional greeting on the far left are from Cambodia, but also reflect the influence of western culture in the little boy’s attire. Directly behind them is a family with roots in Michoacan, Mexico, joyfully reuniting. In the background, Euro-Americans, Middle Eastern Americans and African Americans hurry to their destinations. A Guatemalan refugee carries traditional and modern bundles, while a racially-mixed couple embraces near the windows. Both the “native-born” and international visitor interact, embrace and greet each other, essentially indistinguishable in a milieu of mutual respect and great diversity.
About the Process

Our work is a collaborative effort between the two of us; we arrived at the concept and the composition together, working on and critiquing each other’s ideas and drawings, so that the final drawing was a blending of each other’s styles and approaches. True to the nature of the past seventeen years of our association, we assisted, critiqued and learned from each other in the process of creating the full-scale work. However, in the actual execution of the project, Juana Alicia executed the fresco painting, Emmanuel the bas relief sculpture.
Emmanuel Montoya: Bas Relief Elements

I executed these images of shorebirds as Bas Relief wood sculpture. Bas Relief (low reliefs), are sculptured panels that have a very slight projection from their background. Alto Reliefs (high reliefs) have as much projection as a full free-standing sculpture shape, but are still considered reliefs because they attached to and often composed on a wall or a panel limitation. The idea is create within a materially-limited area the illusion of a full-bodied shape.

used kiln-dried Basswood to create these pieces; it is a light-colored soft wood, easy to carve. This sculpture will require little maintenance, dry dusting every one to two years.
Juana Alicia: Fresco Painting

The painted mural was done in the renaissance tradition of fresco buono or true fresco. I worked an experienced plasterer, Diana Durand, in preparing the wall, and did the actual painting myself. I also had an excellent assistant, Tim Hern›ndez, who ground pigments as well as creating and perforating tracings of my original drawings in order to transfer them to the wall.

I did my masters thesis in fresco painting at the San Francisco Art Institute in 1990, and Stephen P. Dimitroff and Lucienne Bloch were my teachers and supervisors on the thesis. It was our understanding at the time that if they were to invest so much time in training me, that I would commit myself to continue the tradition of fresco painting in the future. Although I created many small fresco panels, and many monumental murals in other media, this would be my first large public commission in this medium, and the second fresco on this scale created in San Francisco since the 1930’s. Lucienne Bloch and Stephen Dimitroff painted a beautiful 10′ x 40′ fresco at Saint Mary the Virgin Episcopal Church in 1965, which was re-dedicated in 1995. I seek to continue the tradition of this wonderful technique, examples of which have endured worldwide over many centuries. Fresco pigments are light-fast, as each molecule of pigment is encased in a crystal of lime as the plaster dries.

There are many examples of such works that are exposed to strong and direct sunlight on a daily basis, such as the cycles of murals at La Secretaria de Educaci§n Pèblica (The Secretariat of Public Education) and at the Palacio Nacional (The National Palace), both in central Mexico City. These are both located in the Z§calo section of the capital, and are exposed to perhaps the highest imaginable levels of pollution, but are in excellent, brilliant condition, sixty to seventy-five years since their creation.

Both the sculptural and the painted surfaces of our work will be relatively free from maintenance, requiring dusting or cleaning every five to ten years. The fresco can be cleaned with a light sponging when required. Ann Rosenthal, Conserator for Coit Tower and the Beach Chalet murals, says, “For a painting, if the artist’s technique is sound, there’s no more durable medium than fresco. It has to be all mineral, and is not subject to the same fading as other organic materials are. Fresco doesn’t require cleaning more than absolutely necessary- it would need inspection and dusting every one or two years, but needs to age and probably within our lifetime would not need a wet cleaning. If the mechanical systems within the airport provide for filtered air on a regular basis, it would not need a wet cleaning for fifty years.”

For these reasons, as well as a love for the luminosity and beauty of the medium, I have chosen fresco.

*Stephen and his wife, Lucienne Bloch were assistants to Diego Rivera in his murals created at the Detroit Art Institute, Rockefeller Center and the San Francisco Art Institute. Stephen is a master plasterer in fresco, and Lucienne an accomplished and recognized fresco painter in her own right. They have restored Rivera’s murals at both the Detroit Art Institute and the San Francisco Art Institute.

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