Miranda stood in her bedroom staring at the wall on which she’d just sketched the image she would start to paint later.
She’d dropped off her film on the way home, ordering fast service so she’d be able to pick up her developed prints later. But meanwhile, with the image still fresh in her mind, she’d used black chalk to outline the major elements of her design.
Several days earlier, she’d done homework in the library, and she knew bridges had three main sections: foundation, substructure, and super-structure. Though she could take artistic license in her own murals, she preferred to make them as realistic as possible, which meant she had to know something about proportion to create the right spacing between parts. She believed that the more she understood about the transfer of weight and tension, the more these qualities would intuitively transfer to her images.
Beginning at the lower left corner, she’d outlined the southern abutment of the bridge, the foundational element designed to endure intense pressure. That also aligned with the location within her own building.
Next, she planned to capture the “bridge within a bridge”—the graceful steel arch that’d been specially designed to preserve the historic Fort Point, and now carried the roadway to the bridge’s southern anchorage.
The arch would take up about two-fifths of her image, with the remaining three-fifths devoted to the span ending at the first tower. Though the actual distance between the two was 345 meters, that would appear foreshortened from the vantage point she’d photographed, making it part artistic license, part true perspective. She realized that, once again, she’d have to “imagineer” the view to perfectly include both the lighthouse and the bottom of the bridge. But that called for her to see through the buildings that actually stood between her and Fort Point.
How much of the hillside would she include? She loved the idea of more nature than a pure city view. If she painted in an edge of wildflower, her room would live in a perpetual spring, even on cold, foggy days. And I could get some accent pillows to match the flowers.
With nothing further to do until her film was ready, she went upstairs to make herself a cup of tea. She looked out the livingroom window and sipped the hot brew. Murals had never before been a focus, but she greatly enjoyed the process—this new endeavor of “seeing through walls,” or seeing what should be there.
During their many travels, her parents had met and befriended Gerard D’A. Henderson, a world-renowned artist famous for sculptures, paintings, and murals installed from Hong Kong to Barcelona and many points in between.
One of his most celebrated accomplishments was an 80-foot mural covering the foyer walls of the Sky Club atop the Pan Am Building. The airline’s founder, Juan Trippe, while traveling through Asia, had stayed at the famed Mandarin Hotel and admired its murals of Chinese horsemen. A meeting was arranged and, true to form, Gerard began painting on the floor of his studio, creating original ideas before the very eyes of his would-be sponsor. He accepted a commission to paint the history of clipper ships, a breathtaking work even more impressive than the view from the uppermost floor of the skyscraper.
Miranda left her now-cool tea on the kitchen counter and ran downstairs to find the brochures she’d saved about his work. She found one of his quotations: “In my own work as a muralist, I always try to bring in some fantasy, drama and spectacle to delight the public’s eye and at the same time remind them of their past cultures and art heritages.”
One of America’s most iconic bridges—could she paint its history? Start with the wide-open mouth of the Bay before any bridge existed, then Fort Point. Construction of the bridge, vintage ships passing through the straight. Then the bridge as it stood today, contemporary ships on the water and a jet overhead.
Would a commission as august as Gerard’s ever come her way? With renewed energy, she decided to proceed without bothering to collect her photos. She organized supplies, placed two bare-bulbs in portable light stands, and began painting.
Just before midnight, the drying mural shone in the brightened room, as though the wall had been replaced with a solid sheet of glass offering the view that should always have been there.
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