The primary objectives and purposes of the COMMITTEE TO PRESERVE THE JESS MURALS AND KAEL/BASART HOUSE are to preserve the Kael Basart House in Berkeley, California, which contains murals painted by renowned Bay Area artist Jess, and its history. We wish to allow the House to be accessible to historians, scholars, writers, poets, film makers, artists, musicians and others in the arts community. We seek to facilitate the conservation and restoration of the Jess murals and other artist-created elements of the House and develop the House to become a center for educational and cultural activities through programming and partnerships. This Committee, along with the Jess Collins Trust, is seeking how this house and these murals can be preserved for future generations. Toward this end, we hope that the house will be bought by an individual or family aware of its history and who will appreciate and preserve Jess’s artworks. Alternatively, we hope that the house might be purchased by an institution or by art collectors and/or investors who would own it jointly as a non-profit foundation, maintaining it as a small museum and study center honoring Robert Duncan and Jess, and Pauline Kael.
In 1956, Jess created a remarkable series of bright, colorful tableaux for the interior of Pauline Kael’s home in Berkeley, California, a mile south of the UC campus. The murals–which are in the styles of Bonnard, Braque, Klee and others—fill the upstairs hallway, the back porch, part of the living room and one of the bedrooms. Significantly, these jewel-like tableaux are the only surviving murals by Jess, the other five he did in the 1950s having been abandoned or painted over by their owners. The house also includes a mural and a kitchen floor designed by the painter Harry Jacobus.
It was in this home from 1955 until 1961 that the legendary film critic, Pauline Kael (1919-2001), began her writing of brilliant film notices and operated on Telegraph Avenue one of the first dual movie theatres in the US. The Cinema Guild and Studio theaters on Telegraph Avenue near the corner of Haste, was where all of Berkeley went to see art films, European films, classic American films, every sort of film. Kael’s home became a gathering place for painters, poets, writers and filmmakers including Robert Duncan, Jess, Lawrence Jordan, Stan Brakhage, and on one visit Jean Renoir. Pauline Kael, the incisive and imaginative commentator on the art of film, wrote reviews in the New Yorker from 1968 to 1991.
Recently, the occupant of the house, who has lovingly cared for the murals for many years, has moved out and her children are needing to put the property on the market. We feel this home, which has been amazing well-preserved since Kael lived in it, should be conserved. The murals of landscapes, fantasy scenes and decorative devices fill most of the upstairs rooms and stairway; however in several rooms they have been painted over. Plans call for restoring all the murals.
The Jess murals—and the house itself—are significant and irreplaceable and deserve recognition as an important part of the Bay Area and the City of Berkeley’s artistic, historic and cultural heritage.