Noe Valley Voice May 2001

Muralist Brings Doves and Dragons to Wall at St. Paul's

By Kathy Dalle-Molle

For the past two months, an artist has been painting a fantastical mural on the north wall of the schoolyard at St. Paul's Elementary School on 29th Street near Church. Among its more striking images are African-American angel babies, sea dragons and dolphins, a giraffe, doves, and children reading books while sitting atop a multicolored butterfly.

The mural, a gift to the school and neighborhood funded largely by an anonymous donor, also incorporates themes relating to ecology, learning, creativity, faith, music, and sports. "It is wonderful, bright, and attractive," says Sister Ann Cronin, principal of the school. "The kids love the colors, especially in the portion dealing with ecology, where Isaias has painted fish in water and birds."

"Isaias" is renowned Latin muralist Isaias Mata, whose social justice­driven murals hang in Argentina, Paraguay, Ecuador, and El Salvador, as well as in California and Vermont. His best-known work in San Francisco is "Our America: 500 Years of Resistance," located at St. Peter's Church on 24th Street near Florida. The mural is a celebration of indigenous cultures, and includes the faces of 16th-century Spanish missionary Bartolomé de Las Casas, Iroquois saint Kateri Tekawitha, civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., and assassinated Salvadoran archbishop Oscar Romero.

Mata, who now makes his home in El Salvador and has been an art professor in the country's National University, lived in San Francisco in the early 1990s and has taught art at San Francisco State and Mission Cultural Center. He was scheduled to finish the St. Paul's mural just as the May issue of the Voice hit the streets.

Of his current creation, he says, "It is for the children. I wanted to do it for them. Creating a mural gives me a chance to communicate positive values to people, to show the importance of having a social conscience and what people can do in this world.... It also gives me the power to tell stories about our present and our past. For the children, though, I have included an element of fantasy."

Since March 10, Mata has been putting in nine-hour days, six days a week, painting the mural, which fills an 80-foot-long concrete wall behind the school's basketball courts. Still, he always finds time to talk to St. Paul's students and Noe Valley residents who happen by the wall.

"Art is magic," he says. "I want the children to enjoy my work and be encouraged by it, to appreciate the images and the composition. I really like this neighborhood. There are a lot of nice people here who have dropped by to talk to me about my work."

Mata is hoping that through additional donations from the Noe Valley community he will be able to afford the supplies and time to create a second mural with the children of St. Paul's, on another wall in the schoolyard. A Noe Valley neighbor who prefers to remain anonymous is underwriting most of the $15,000 cost of Mata's current project.

Day Street resident and St. Paul's parishioner Mike Siani-Rose is a friend of Mata's who has volunteered to coordinate the mural project with St. Paul's and the Archdiocese of San Francisco. Siani-Rose says he visits the site with his 2-year-old son Elias almost daily.

"My son is a big part of why I decided to get involved in this project," he says. "I wanted to do something for the children in the neighborhood and also find a project to do with St. Paul's School. When I'm there in the afternoons, the kids are fascinated. Fifteen kids will sit on the scaffolding, asking questions about why Isaias has painted what he has, why he's put a baby on top of a world globe, for instance. It's been great to see the mural unfold. People walking by seem to be really engaged in what Isaias has painted. It's a great addition to the neighborhood."

Siani-Rose says donations to help defray the cost of Mata's proposed mural project with the kids can be sent to his attention in care of St. Paul's Church, 221 Valley Street, San Francisco, CA 94131. (Checks should be made payable to St. Paul's Church.)

Sister Ann Cronin Goes on Sabbatical

Sister Ann Cronin will be saying goodbye to St. Paul's Elementary School--and to the neighborhood where she was born and raised--when the school year ends on June 7. A native of 26th Street, Cronin went to school at St. Paul's as a child and has served as a teacher and administrator for the past 17 years, the last 10 as principal.

"I'm taking a yearlong sabbatical," she told the Voice. "My first stop is the Weston Jesuit School of Theology in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where I just plan to soak up knowledge. I've never seen the East Coast, so I'm looking forward to that as well as kicking back and relaxing."

After several months in Cambridge, Cronin, 55, will move on to Dubuque, Iowa, where the headquarters for her religious order, the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, is located. She'll spend about eight weeks there, helping to care for several elderly nuns in her order.

"Then I'm hopping in the car and heading back to San Francisco," she says. "San Francisco will always be home to me."

Until the school year ends, though, she is working to help ensure a smooth transition for Bruce Colville, who will replace her at St. Paul's. Colville is currently a counselor at Riordan High School and had taught at St. Paul's High School for Girls before its closure in 1994.

Cronin says she's "lucky to be blessed with a short memory," given the tumultuous events that occurred during her time as principal, including the making of the Disney film Sister Act in 1991, the temporary relocation of students to the building that once housed St. James Boys High School on Fair Oaks in 1994, the demolition of the former elementary school building in 1997, and finally the good news: the reopening and dedication of the new school building on Church in 1999.

"I'm ready to leave Noe Valley for a while," Cronin, who lives on 27th near Sanchez, says. "I'm ready for a change of scenery. Also, I need to give the new principal space, and I'm afraid that if I were in Noe Valley, I'd have a tendency to spy on the school, to see what's new."

Although Cronin's friends are telling her she should consider a return to teaching when she gets back to San Francisco, she is hoping for a new challenge.

"I have no clue what I'm going to do once I get back," she says, "but I doubt it will be anything affiliated with St. Paul's, although I'll still be worshipping there every Sunday.

"I love to bake," she adds. "I'd love a job in a bakery. People have been joking that I should take over Star Bakery." M