As it should, the image of the KKK rally has drawn considerable attention – and with it, a worry that representing atrocity as a statement of historical fact could somehow be looked at as glorification of those acts.
We have decided to cover that section of the mural while we discuss other images with the original artist that aren’t as polarizing.
A Fountain of Controversies
Alan Shepp’s mosaic fountain is an artistic rendition of the Napa Valley’s role in the epic of the American West. The work of art seeks to capture the essence of the whole Napa Valley story, its glories, and its tragedies.
Those tragedies include historic Klu Klux Klan activity in Napa Valley and are on the mural not to glorify but as an honest look at the community’s past (see bottom of the page for specifics on the events depicted).
- In 2017, the NAACP’s visited the artwork and declined the owner’s offer to remove that piece of the artwork.
- The Chinese Cultural Heritage Commission gave the artist an award for the depiction of the burning of Napa’s Chinatown and thanked him for keeping that wrong in the light.
- The artist believes that a painful discussion of history should not be confined only to the dusty pages of history books.
“No matter how hard you try, you cannot expunge the past of painful and reprehensible acts by destroying the histories, memoirs, and art wrung from the tears of a society. You can only elevate the future by educating and exposing wrongdoing to the eyes of a willing people.
This depiction is not an endorsement, this portrayal is not to sanction the action of bullies, but instead to stand as a reminder that we must remember the past, accurately and without a tendency to whitewash.” — Harry Price
ARS LONGA VITA BREVIS
(Life is Brief But Art Endures)
Alan Shepp’s mosaic fountain
The mosaic captures “The Glories” of the Valley’s development, from the days of the Nappa Indians through the Spanish conquest, and on to the eras of Mexican and American domination. The development of agriculture featured at different times, cattle, wheat, prunes, grapes and wines, brought to market by horse, train and boat. The Hispanic, American and Chinese communities all played vital roles in this development. These glories survive in our institutions, laws, culture and historic buildings.
The “Tragedies” include the elimination of the Nappa tribe of Wintum Indians by smallpox and harassment. Actions of some residents led to the burning of Napa’s Chinatown and support of Klu Klux Klan measures directed against African-American, Chinese, Catholic and Jewish peoples. These tragedies lie forgotten in dusty books.
By bringing the past to life Alan Shepp has helped to create a more hopeful future.
The Living River
The mosaics beneath the waterfall reflect the flora and fauna living in the Napa River. The several varieties of fish and fowl survive within the environs of sunken boats, wagon wheels and other vestiges of land based civilization.
The Riparian Habitat
The mosaics located on the Riverbend Plaza reflect the map of the downtown reach of the Napa River and native animals inhabiting its banks.
The Cross Burning on the Mosaic:
In 1934 on the grounds of the Veterans Home in Yountville, and in 1935 at the Napa State Hospital, the Ku Klux Klan held large
rallies. Estimated attendance at each was between 8,000 and 10,000, though most attendees were probably curiosity-seekers. The number of actual Klan members participating was only about two hundred, drawn from communities throughout the Bay Area. At the rallies, Klan members delivered diatribes against the Chinese, Mexicans, Jews and Catholics. African Americans were also castigated, but so few lived in the area that they were not considered a threat to the local Klan.