San Diego Industry, a fresco by George Nels Sorenson (1910-2001) completed in 1936, was originally located outside the department of Art in the Hardy Memorial Tower basement, San Diego State College.
MURAL IN THE REGIONALIST STYLE
San Diego Industry depicts local workers in each stage of the tuna-fishing industry and includes fishermen, dock workers, canning women, and merchants. The fresco details Portuguese fishermen using bamboo poles, cotton cord, and piano wire to catch the large tuna; dock workers inspecting and weighing the catch; assembly-line women cleaning and separating the fish; cannery workers packing and sealing the cans for pressure cooking; and Asian merchants preparing the cans to be packed and shipped.
The scene reflects the early 20th century tuna boom in San Diego. Sorenson closely studied the local canneries along the San Diego harbor, like the Van Camp Seafood Company, and his mural reflects San Diego’s prominence from the 1930’s to the 70’s as the “Tuna Capital of the World.”
Regionalism was a common WPA artistic theme that focused on local commerce. In an effort to maintain local integrity, artists frequently depicted workers engaging in the most prominent and distinctive business of the region.
DAMAGE TO THE MURAL
During 1957-59 renovations, the mural was hidden from view behind a lowered ceiling-tile horizon. Conduit holes were cut in the fresco; over time these created radiating fractures. The mural sustained water damage in 2006 when an adjacent water pipe burst and remains at risk, as water pipes run the entire length of the piece.
As the works of the WPA-era fell out of favor, interest waned. Jackson and Sorenson died believing this mural had been destroyed. When rediscovered during routine maintenance, the restoration saved a damaged, but truly outstanding and historic piece of art.
The conservation project for San Diego Industry was awarded the 2012 Excellence in Historic Preservation Award given by the City of San Diego Historical Resources Board, recognizing the work of former SDSU Library Dean, Connie Vinita Dowell, Interim Dean Jon E. Cawthorne, and Seth Mallios, Ph.D., chair of the Anthropology department.