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Indians in Yucca: a colorful display on Foothill

by Ginger Elliot

This is a selection from the book Murals of Claremont written by Professor Art Stevens of Scripps College. The book was published in 2002 by Claremont Heritage and is available for purchase at its office at 840 Indian Hill Blvd. —GE

Most Claremonters have seen it hundreds, perhaps thousands, of times. Stopping for a red light at Foothill and Indian Hill, or cruising along the former Route 66, your eye wanders to the colorful and pastoral scene on the south wall of the US Bank building.

Created in 1968 and made of Smalti Italian mosaic tiles imported from Moramo,Italy, this mosaic mural depicts the Native Americans of the area using materials from classical Italian tesserae (naturally colored pieces of marble.)

Local artist Millard Sheets had revived the ancient art of mosaic mural making and from thousands of these tiny pieces of colored marble, he produced an image of 3 native boys on horseback on what appears to be a scouting mission through the desert flora of southern California.

The 3 main figures are framed on both sides by the convex stylizations of yucca plants in bloom. The shield-shaped white blossoming yuccas with their repeated curved sides impart lightness, an almost floating sensation, to the mural.

The curves of the plants find echoes in the shapes of the horses’ tails and rumps and the fan-shaped plants in the foreground. The vivid hues remain as fresh as the day they were applied, illustrating that mosaics are a natural choice for creating permanent exterior murals.

By 1968, when he completed this mural, Sheets already had produced numerous murals for many banks at all their southern California branches, using the same imported tesserae. Many of these murals still delight the public in communities from Pacific Palisades to Pomona.

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