Born in the idealism of the early 1970s, the mural features musicians, dancers, children, a dragon, God's heads as imagined by different ethnic groups, green pastures, and a title that may be the most utopian in San Francisco history. After 40 years, the paint has faded, but its prominent Haight-Ashbury location — on the side of a Victorian building that faces the Park branch of the San Francisco Public Library — gives Come Together Each in Your Own Perceiving of Yourself something that murals can only wish for: a steady audience. Every day, people see the mural on their way in and out of the library. Generations of people have grown up with the artwork, which San Francisco officials commissioned Ruby Newman and Selma Brown to paint. Brown recently passed away.
“At that time, the murals were very political, and neither Selma and I are political — we're more inclined toward 'spirit,'” says Newman, who now lives in Petaluma. “We wanted to make it multiethnic, and we wanted it to represent the different groups that were in San Francisco. We have very different styles — she's more realistic, and I'm more stylized — but we were able to make them work together.”
Started in 1975 and completed in 1976 when Brown was 43 and Newman was 25, Come Together Each in Your Own Perceiving of Yourself led Newman to her next assignment, which lasted from 1977 to 1985: restoring the animals in the Golden Gate Park carousel. Those giraffes, horses, dragons, and all their friends are as colorful as ever — maintained to this day, while the Park Branch mural is, to Newman's eyes at least, “pretty disintegrated. It's unfortunate that it wasn't maintained. But that's the life of public art.”
Newman, who has a background in theater design, says the carousel animals were “in such disarray that I knew I couldn't wreck them. Having done the mural on Page Street made it possible for me to get the carousel work because they saw that I followed through with the project.”
The back story of Come Together Each in Your Own Perceiving of Yourself involved one of San Francisco's wealthiest residents, Harold Zellerbach. The original Victorian building next to the library has an uneven exterior, which Newman calls a “tongue-and-groove” surface.
“When we made our presentation to the Arts Commission,” Newman says, “Mr. Zellerbach — who was on the board and had been very generous to San Francisco philanthropically speaking, and he was about 5-feet-2 — he was the only one who got up and looked at the photograph of the building. He looked at me and said, 'How are you going to paint it on this tongue-and-groove siding?' And we said, 'We don't know.' And he said, 'I'll tell you what, girls. Find out how much it costs to put up paneling, and I'll pay for it.' So he paid for the masonite and preparing the surface, and the install, we could paint the mural.”
“About six years ago,” Newman adds, “we tried to get money to restore it, but we couldn't get anyone to sponsor us.”