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The History Behind YIA’s San Rafael Mural

Matthew Jackett is a junior at Marin Academy, interested in history and writing. As a 2012 summer intern for the Marin History Museum, Matthew wrote a series of blog posts on the mural installed on Youth in Arts refurbished facade at 917 C Street. This is the first post in that series.

Section of YIA Mural created by Davidson students

Youth in Arts’ newest project allowing students to explore the history of Marin in an artistic medium is a mural placed on the outside of their building. The mural was created by students at Davidson Middle School with the help of Brooke Toczylowski, an artist who works with Youth in Arts.

The mural works inward from two ends chronologically, with the center panels representing the present and future of San Rafael. The beginning of the history of Marin and San Rafael is the Native American Miwoks, and that is what the first panel of the mural depicts.

The man in the mural is a Miwok elder, Gene Buvelot, who was interviewed by the students. He has been a member of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, otherwise known as the Federated Coast Miwok, for 12 years. He gave the students information for their research project and helped them learn more about the Miwok culture, but also to recognize that Miwoks and Native Americans are still very much alive and a part of today’s world. Similarly, his presence in the mural is meant to depict Miwoks not as something in a history book, but something very much alive, with a thriving culture that lives on. It places Miwoks in the present as well as the past.

Gene Buvelot by Michael Amsler
for the Sonoma County Independent

The Coast Miwok people who inhabited Marin thrived off of the abundance of the land and its natural resources for over 3000 years. The bountiful earth provided many plants such as acorns and hazelnuts to eat, as well as birds and small animals that could be captured with bows and arrows or slings and traps.

In the foreground of the panel is a sáka, or traditional tule canoe. It was the Miwok people’s main means of transportation across water. The canoes were dry and seaworthy and could seat as many as three people. They were made from tule reeds, making them water resistant. Rowers used double-bladed paddles to propel the boat forward. It was on boats such as these that the Miwoks went to greet Sir Francis Drake when he first arrived in the Bay Area.

Behind the canoe and the Miwok elder are grass houses woven from tule reeds, called kótcha. It was in structures such as these that the Miwok people lived. Some were large enough to fit multiple families. In the main villages, of which there are over 600 identified locations, there were also large roundhouses for dancing and ceremonies.

Across the top of the mural stretches the Mount Tamalpais ridgeline that is so familiar to Marin residents. The shape of the ridgeline has been said to look like the silhouette of a sleeping woman. In the mural, that outline is highlighted by the depiction of an actual sleeping woman, painted in the likeness of one of the students at Davidson Middle School who worked on the mural. Her body fades away to be a part of the mountain.

Read “History Behind the Mural, Part 2”
Read “History Behind the Mural, Part 3”

The San Rafael history mural at Youth in Arts was created with support from the County of Marin, the Fenwick Foundation, the MacPhail Family and the Marin Community Foundation. Youth in Arts will host a public reception and celebration of the mural on Friday, September 14, from 5-8 p.m. The event will include a dedication ceremony at 6 p.m. and the opening of a new exhibit on the creation of the mural by Davidson students.

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