“Medicine Wheel” – Bernal Heights

Precita Eyes Muralists celebrates 40 years committed to building creativity, community, and collaboration across the city.


Bernal Heights in the Moonlight

Bernal Heights, a “paradise of the agile goat and the speckled hen.”  said the SF Chronicle in November of 1894.  The Bernal History Project describes Bernal Heights in the second half of the 19th century as largely rural cow pasture, farmed by Swedish, German, and Irish immigrants.


Bernal Heights from 26th and Fair Oaks 1921 – David Gallagher

After the 1906 earthquake and fire, Bernal Heights grew dramatically in size as city residents flocked to its open hillsides, cheap land, and solid bedrock. More than 600 houses were built in Bernal in the year after the disaster. After that, Bernal continued to expand along with the rest of the city, and is now home to more than 22,000 residents. — The Bernal History Project

Bernal Heights Tower Medicine Wheel Mural Project:

In 2016, Precita Eyes Muralists — Max Marttila, Eli Lippert, Fred Alvarado, Dno Deladingo, and Suaro Cervantes — led the design and completion of the Bernal Heights Medicine Wheel Mural Project on the tower atop the hill overlooking the city.


Bernal Heights Tower (before)



Bernal Heights Tower (before)


Bernal Heights Tower (after)

The initial concept of the project was inspired by the building’s natural surroundings and its alignment with the cardinal directions, represented by a different base-color, and corresponding to the Ohlone medicine wheel. The four colors of the wheel represent all our relations, and peace for the human and animal world. 


Yellow – East represents male energy and direction of the rising sun and fire. Animals present are the San Francisco Garter Snake and the Tule Elk.


Black – West represents feminine energy; also depicted is a turtle, the continent known as Turtle Island stretching from North to South America; the word “Tonantzin,” seen in the sky, meaning “mother earth” in Nahuatl; sacred waters and relationship with Metzli, the moon, and the death of one day (represented by the Flicker bird) leading to the next; then a pair of Great Blue Herons, along with the lotus flower, and native sage.


Chavi Lopez

Red – South is held by the youth, essence of will and discipline, symbolized by the hummingbird. The wild curiosity of the Raccoon’s and Coyote’s trickster spirit is ever present too. The Black Widow web represents our collective web connecting to an abstract version of native mother bird nesting.


Precita Eyes volunteers: Evan and Jose

​White- North serves as an homage to our past, present and future relations.  The word, “ancestors” is read within the wings of a golden eagle with silhouetted figures underneath enjoying the sights and tranquility of Bernal Heights.

Precita Eyes Muralists invites you to our 40th ANNIVERSARY GALA:   Four Decades of Collaborative Art: Celebrating Creativity in the Community. Help us celebrate September 30th!  Get your TICKETS.





“Soul Journey” – Bayview Hunters Point

Precita Eyes Muralists celebrates 40 years committed to building creativity, community, and collaboration across the city.

souljourney2_orig.jpgThe soul-journey of tears has flowed from people’s eyes for too many years.  These soul-journey tears have dropped to the ground forging through cultivated soil that has transformed their lives, wiped away sorrow and pain.  The soul-journey of tears has given us new meaning to life.  —Ronnie Goodman, artist

After three years of fundraising, Soul Journey was completed in 2000, directed by Susan Kelk Cervantes with seven artists, five apprentices, and many participants from San Francisco’s Bayview/Hunters Point community.  The mural reflects the past, present, and future dreams of how the artists, residents, and youth would like others to see themselves: transforming their lives and giving new meaning to life in their community.

Demitri Moore’s 2014 video, Point of Pride: The People’s View of Bayview/Hunters Point,  mixes archival footage of the neighborhood from the 1950s to the 1970s” with present-day viewpoints and delves deep into the meanings and transformations of Bayview/Hunters Point in what Moore describes as, “a community marked by struggle and fueled by hope.

That is an apt way to describe the tenor of  the mural, Soul Journey.  The mural stretches 187 feet down Carroll Street at Third, along the side of the building that houses the Bayview Hunters Point Foundation,  But it stretches back even further into time and spirit, beginning with a 20-foot tall African earth goddess seated in majestic repose with serpents coiled around her neck and a magical amulet, a symbol of where life originates.  Behind her is an Ohlone couple derived from an 18th century print by L. Chloris representing the indigenous people who settled in San Francisco over 5,000 years ago.


Soul Journey includes an image of seventh century Tang poet, Li Po, one of China’s greatest poets.  Li Po is associated with Taoism and with nature: especially the moon, mountains, trees, birds and the sky.  His presence in the mural illustrates the Chinese presence in the Bayview/Hunters Point after the Gold Rush, originally brought people over to build the railroads.  The muralists painted one of his poems on a rock formation on the mural’s lower border: 

Homesickness On a Quiet Night – On the ground before my bed is spread the bright moonlight. But I take it for frost. When I wake up at the first sight. Then I look up at the bright full moon in the sky. Suddenly homesickness strikes me as I bow my head with a deep sigh. –Li Po

Li Po is looking out over the moonlit bay filled with shrimp boats and over to the Hunters Point shipyards.  The shipyards sprang up during World War II when factories tripled, and the number of workers doubled. Thousands of African-Americans came from the Southern U.S. to San Francisco to work in the wartime factories and continue to have an important presence in the neighborhood. 


The female figure and infant above the doorway blesses visitors.  Her robe embellishes the entryway to the building.

There are so many historical and visual transformations in the mural, it prompted me to visit Found SF to learn more about the history of the area.  The mural itself, like the neighborhood, can not be captured in a snap shot.  It invites a slow walk down Carroll Street to take in each nuance.  The mural manages to see through the walls and illuminates past, present, and future dreams.

Precita Eyes Muralists invites you to our 40th ANNIVERSARY GALA:   Four Decades of Collaborative Art: Celebrating Creativity in the Community. Help us celebrate September 30th!  Get your TICKETS.




“Growing Together” – Tenderloin People’s Garden Mural

Precita Eyes Muralists celebrates forty-years committed to building creativity, community, and collaboration across the city.

A dove flies in the bright blue sky above the arch.  Below a sunrise of warm colored San Francisco fog, signals the early morning when gardeners come to work.  “Growing Together” is a community mural about the Tenderloin People’s Garden, and the gardeners and residents who take care of the garden and the surrounding community.

In March of 2016, Precita Eyes directed a community mural project with TNDC, Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation.  TNDC staff, volunteers from the Tenderloin People’s Garden, local residents, and artists from the Tenderloin Artists Collaborative worked with Precita Eyes muralists to develop themes and draw out their ideas.  “Growing Together” was painted on the west wall of the McAllister Hotel, overlooking the Garden.


Yuka Ezoe, Ira Watkins, and Susan Cervantes look over reference images

San Francisco is known for having more murals per person than anywhere else on earth. As we look at Precita Eyes Muralists’ forty-year contribution to the culture of community in the city, the Mission District naturally comes to mind as the epicenter of our murals.   But as you come upon the bright vision on McAllister and Larkin Streets, just a stone’s throw from City Hall, it’s beautifully clear that Precita Eyes empowers communities across the city to express their visions and dreams and to make their lives visible.


Paul Kensinger, Max Marttila, Yuka Ezoe, Susan Cervantes, Ira Watkins, and a garden volunteer in front of mural-in-progress



Ira Watkins paints on the scaffold

The volunteer-run Tenderloin people’s Garden produces thousands of pounds of fresh produce free to Tenderloin residents and creates a humane oasis in a commercially paved district.  Read more about the garden on Hoodline and UC Davis Master Gardeners.  “Growing Together” is a beacon for this place.  The mural expresses the gardeners’ dedication and pride in their hard work.  The color and scale of the mural communicates on an visceral level how garden sustains health and vibrancy in downtown San Francisco.


Susan Cervantes puts finishing touches: A giant spiral, the cycle of life, spins a colorful spectrum of healthy fruits and vegetables. Inside of the spiral a boat carries people with their hands up receiving the harvest. The boat symbolizes the many journeys people and their families have taken from different countries and places before they arrived at their home in the Tenderloin.



Precita Eyes Muralists invites you to our 40th ANNIVERSARY GALA:   Four Decades of Collaborative Art: Celebrating Creativity in the Community. Help us celebrate September 30th!  Get your TICKETS.






2017 Urban Youth Arts Festival: a conversation with Max Marttila

Precita Eyes Muralists is often described as a family.  It is a family owned and operated business for sure, and, if you come around long enough you may find yourself on the payroll: mixing paint at the store, teaching toddler art, leading an instant mural workshop, or out on the scaffold.  Precita Eyes Muralist, Max Marttila describes his origins with Precita Eyes that way.  He was working in the store on 24th Street as we caught up.  We joked, per usual.  While he mixed some Organic Orange, we talked about his history with Precita Eyes:

I started hanging out about 2008, 2009 maybe, as early as that time.  I was just hanging folks. And so I would come, I would kick it with them and then I would help with some projects.  We painted these roll-downs on these markets [along 24th St.].  That was probably the first things I painted with them.  And then I started substituting the urban youth arts class when Fred was still doing it. And then somehow I just started working here in the store and picked up other responsibilities and worked on more projects and became an employee.  Just kind of from hanging out. I feel like a lot of people connect to that. … You know, “Put the boy on!”

That was like early college, so I was probably like 19 or something. … I had painted some murals in friends houses and at schools and stuff.  I was going to SFAI at that time.  I met Javier first, because he was working at Everett Middle School doing an after school program there.  I was working with the skate club that they had there.  Fred was fixing a painting that Marina and some folks had done in the back of the school.  I helped him out and he was like, “oh you know how to paint?  You should come hang out at Precita Eyes.”

Max Marttila mixing paint at Precita Eyes store

In the past four years, Max has been getting more involved in organizing the Urban Youth Arts Festival.  This year marks 21 years for the festival, which takes place in two weeks, July 22nd.  For me, this festival is a beautiful example of the enduring resilience and responsiveness of Precita Eyes as a community center.  While teaching community mural making, Susan Cervantes saw graffiti culture develop in the neighborhood. She not only accepted the art form but invited young people into the fold, using the same values of self-expression, collaboration, and community service through spray can art.  Next post I look at Susan’s stories behind the development of the Urban Youth Arts program and festival.  This week I wanted to get Max’s perspective as someone who came up as a young artist with Precita Eyes now works with the Urban Youth Arts Program.

2016 Urban Youth Arts Festival!  From left: Audry, Nancy Pili, and Priya Handa

From 2016 Urban Youth Arts Festival

From 2016 Urban Youth Arts Festival

Interview with Max Marttila at Precita Eyes 6/5/2017

Why is it special or important to have the Urban Youth Arts (UYA) Festival?

It’s good in a lot of ways.  In a really simple way, it’s a family friendly thing.  You can just show up.  You may not know about what we do in the program, you may just be looking for something cool and fun a weird on the weekend.  

I think it also helps people appreciate graffiti art more.  People who might think it’s all just tagging.  Tagging is a touchy subject because people think it’s vandalizm, but it’s also the essence of graffiti — It’s like the sketeton.  Everything else is like the muscle and the skin — and just to see it on that small level and on that big level all at the same time.  

I think that’s cool for people to see. And also for the community of those actual artists, I think it’s a really cool day.  For a lot of reasons.  One, they can come and paint.  People can practice and express themselves without getting hasseled by the police.  So it’s less tabboo.  And also for the urban youth, or for the urban art community, just to have events like that where everyone can come and get along and meet each other and be cool.  I think it is really cool for the performers of the festival too.  Especially this year, we have a lot of youth performers.  We have a couple older guys too, you know,  just to hype it up.  A lot of guys that I’m really into.  But it’s mostly youngsters who helped us organize. . . .

I guess they said it had been a long time, or maybe never that a woman had done a flyer for the festival.  So we had Bems come through and do it.  She’s a young woman. And a lot of the performers are young women too.  So that was a big focus this year.  We’re going to have pink shirts and everything.  So that will be fun.

Susan saw graffiti rise up.  She was doing this mural thing, but then she started seeing this other form, then she incorporated it and sort of invited people in to do it.

She provided a safe space for it to happen.

I feel like that’s what the UYA program is. You do murals also, but talk to me a little bit about your perception of what those connections are.

Graffiti art in general is a craft just like muraling with paint brushes. The two worlds can be very different, but they can also cross over a lot.  You can’t really speak for all graffiti artists at any time really because there are so many different levels and mentalities  amongst people who do graffiti.  Some only do legal graffiti art and other people do both legal and illegal work, and some people who do strictly illegal work.  And some people are really politicized and some people are totally not and just like to live in the moment and all that.  It really takes all types.  But for me personally, I see the craft in both.  I like really good murals and I also like graffiti and I like people’s tags when I see them in the street.  I like seeing that kind of craftmanship. So for me, it all falls under art.  For me it’s really easy to appreciate both.  For some people it’s not very easy for them to appreciate graffiti in certain contexts, and that’s ok.  I’m not going to tell them how to feel.

In the UYA cass do you get into discussions about that?

A little bit.  You can’t really tell people what to do.  I talk about the risks involved and encourage people to get involved in the murals.  But I’m totally down in drawing letters with people and I think the more your learn with a brush and the more you learn with a spray can, those mediums really inform each other.  At the end of the day you can make any mural look pretty much the same with a brush or a can if you study the material and the tools that well.  You can make it look dead-on the same.  

In the Urban Youth Arts class we teach kids stuff that they wouldn’t necessarily learn in their regular art classes in high school.  They don’t usually teach how to use spray paint in a high school setting.  Some places do, which is really cool.  It’s a really contemporary tool, and I think it’s good for kids to learn how to use it so that they can take it and do something positive with it.  At the end of the day, it’s really just a tool.  So we talk about tags and stuff but we discourage people from breaking the law, we want everyone to be safe.

Yeah and it sounds like you are also a welcoming space and you don’t …

Yeah, I’m not here to police on people.  I here to teach people how to use paint and how to organize together and work together to make murals happen.  That’s a big part of it too. To teach people how to work together.   Like, on the scaffold, “I need you to pass me this.”  We are all going to wash the brushes together.  It’s a community thing, but it’s also a team thing.  People have leadership roles. I think it’s really positive.  I’ve been doing it long enough to see a lot of my old students are grown now.  A lot of them are not painters but have turned into musicians and stuff like that.  But I feel like that sense of community is still really important to all of them and they incorporate that into what they do.  Some of them are artists too, still going at it thought that path.

Regardless of what they get into after that, they still recognize…

Not just what they learned, but what they did.  Coming back and seeing a mural they worked on ten years later or even later than that.  That sense of ownership like, “you see that little part right there?  I designed and painted this.”   It’s like a placeholder in history and it’s also really self affirming. Especially now, post gentrification…

Seeing with Precita Eyes

Precita Eyes Muralists has been designated one of San Francisco’s first legacy businesses. In commemoration of our 40th Anniversary, we bring you The Precita Eyes Way!  In the lead-up to our 40th Anniversary Gala, this blog shares a deeper look at Precita Eyes muralists, community murals and history.



Susan Kelk Cervantes giving a mural walk for Precita Eyes 40th Anniversary tour

“I don’t want to assume what the community needs, and I find through the practice they really appreciate you listening to them and giving them a voice and ownership over the work.  And if you just go into a neighborhood cold and you want to put up something that’s your own, you just won’t get the support and people won’t see you.”  –Susan Kelk Cervantes, from her interview on KALW


Susan Kelk Cervantes, founding director of Precita Eyes Muralists, has been listening and responding to community needs and visions for four decades.  Among the myriad fruits of this labor are the over 400 community murals Precita Eyes has created and facilitated across San Francisco, emanating from the Mission District mural-epicenter.  The Mission is known for having more murals per capita than anywhere else on earth.  But this spectacular phenomenon is not random magic.  The history of murals in the Mission is intimately linked to geography, history, migration, technology, and even chemistry.  The presence of murals in this neighborhood is deliberate — it comes from and speaks to the heart of the community itself, and Precita Eyes has, since 1977, carried the torch of community mural making.   Precita Eyes’ collaborative process has come to be known as “the Precita eyes way.”

On the first of a series of 40th Anniversary Tours, Susan tells us a little known history of the Precita Eyes and our community mural making process, in her own words:

I’m Susan Kelk Cervantes, the founding director of Precita Eyes, co-founded with my husband Luis.  One question we get a lot is, how did Precita Eyes Muralists get it’s name?  A lot of people don’t know the geography here.  This is Precita Park.  What does Precita mean?  It’s the name of the little dam that used to be on Cesar Chavez St. which used to be Army Street. When the Spanish were here they called it the Precita [little dam].  So when the Army Corps of engineers filled up the creek that was there that the little damn was retaining, they still kept the name for this street here. So that’s why it’s called Precita.  Precita Valley is the geographic area.

I did the first mural in 1965, but no one knew what murals were at that time.  In the early seventies we started seeing one or two [murals] coming up because of the civil rights movement.  There were a lot of Latinos here, Chicanos who were inspired by the Mexican mural art movement who thought, wow this is something great that we could do here in the Mission District.  So we had a lot of artist that started doing murals, and one group that I became attached to and was a part of at one point was Las Mujeres Muralistas, the Women Muralists, who was a collective group of Chicanas who were here in the area and, for some, associated with the Galeria de la Raza over on 24th Street.  My husband was part of that too so I knew them.  They knew me as a painter so they invited me to participate with them.  I thought that their process of working collaboratively was really wonderful, and [thought about] how could we continue that practice.  I painted with them on the Pacos Tacos mural [1974], which is no longer there on 24th Street.

But what I wanted to do was continue that over at the Precita Valley Community Center, so we had one of our first workshops over at Precita Valley and we did our first multicultural mural in the Mission at the Precita Valley Community Center using the same approach of collaboration.  I thought it was wonderful how they respected each other’s ideas, and integrated each other’s ideas together and made a unified mural design using all of their ideas.  So we did that, and I was inspired to do that again here in Precita Valley.  That was in 1975.

I got involved in my community when my husband and our first son moved to Precita Park just a block from here and I wanted to know what there was for children.  There wasn’t anything for children here.  The playground was totally dilapidated, the community center didn’t have any arts programs for the children, so I started volunteering my time as an artist.  I was an artist since I was in High School.  I had an MFA from the Art Institute for painting, so I really wanted to share my skills as an artist with my community, not even knowing what community art or organizing my community was about.  But I volunteered all my time at the community center to do preschool art, after school art, and adult painting classes in the evening.  My adult painting classes evolved into a mural workshop.  After doing the multicultural one on the front of the center, people wanted to continue to practice mural painting so everyone wanted to come to the workshop, it was every Thursday night.   That’s how Precita Eyes grew and was founded.   When you see things as we go along, you’ll have that perspective.

[The] original studio we started renting in 1980.  We used to have two storefronts.  We were evicted from one and I really felt threatened, there was no way we could grow here just in this one small studio.  So I tried to find some way to find another place.  I looked around Precita Park, there was nothing.  And we always used to take people through Balmy Alley to 24th Street on the tours.  So when I was walking through the alley I saw a storefront right on 24th and Balmy and I said, “that’s where we need to be.”  I had my first beginning there as a tutor for kids that were learning how to read at 24th Street Place, run by Mia Gonzales, who was the one that started Balmy Alley.  But this is how we ended up here.  We started over there and we went to Mission Cultural Center when it opened, and then with a big circle we found this place.


Precita Eyes Muralists and Community celebrate after Mission Economic Development Agency helps save the Precita Avenue center.  Precita Eyes Muralists was founded in 1977 by Susan Kelk Cervantes and her husband, Luis.  The center pictured above was founded in 1980 after their eviction from Precita Eyes’ first home.