Murals painted by the artist Jess in film critic Pauline Kael’s former home on Oregon Street in Berkeley have been saved.
A 29-year-old tech worker who comes from a family of artists purchased the 1905 brown-shingled home for $1.45 million and signed a covenant promising not to paint over or disturb the murals for 10 years.
“I got very inspired by the artwork,” said Reuben Gibson at a reception at the house on May 6. “It speaks to me. I love mysticism, the romantic myth. I love 'Lord of the Rings.' I like the artwork. It’s one of the reasons I bought the house.”
Kael, who became America’s leading film critic after she started writing for the New Yorker in 1967, moved to Berkeley in 1955. (She had attended UC Berkeley in the 1930s, but never graduated.) She was the manager of the two-screen Berkeley Cinema Guild Studio in the Sequoia Building on Telegraph Avenue near Haste Street. The theater showed both American and European films and became known for its innovative programming, and what movie historian David Thomson described as Kael’s "pungent” film reviews.
In 1956, Kael hired Jess (he dropped his last name in the 1940s after he became estranged from his family) to paint murals throughout the house. Jess painted 10 whimsical murals -- in the styles of Gaudi, Bonnard, Braque, Klee, the Symbolists and others -- above the front door, on the back porch, in the living room, in the upstairs hallway and in various bedrooms. Five of the murals have been painted over. Another artist, Henry Jacobus, painted the kitchen floor and a mural.