The Renoir Wars and the slow death of an Urban Dream

Sitting along a dilapidated pedestrian mall and hidden between bushes rests an original Renoir. Yes, Fresno has an original Renoir! And, it is the only one in the world you can touch without the glare of a security guard.

The magnificent Grande laveuse is widely considered Renoir’s sculptural masterpiece. In his frail final years Renoir created a series of sculptures with the help of an assistant, Richard Guino. Designed to be a companion piece to an equally large Le Forgeron, the Grande laveuse was inspired by the abstract notion of elemental opposites.

The humble figures–“a simple blacksmith heating the iron, a simple washerwoman scrubbing the laundry”– illustrate the dichotomy of fire and water. Cast as a man and a woman, the two figures compose a symbol of a virtually endless series of oppositions.

Though the assistant Guino completed some sketches for Le Forgeron Renoir soon grew weary of this partnership and the work was never completed. The Grande laveuse persists as testament to the ambitious project, and the peak of Renoir’s sculptural work.

Renoir could not have dreamt how much unpleasantness would erupt over his own final works, years after his death. Today, the descendants of Renoir and Guino are locked in a messy battle of ownership, copyright and authenticity that is known as The Renoir Wars.

We visit the grand dame, Grande laveuse, a symbol of endless oppositions, on the next Urban Taste Adventure this Saturday, May 23rd. Likely the last time to enjoy another artists vision on the Fulton Mall; Garrett Eckbo.  Eckbo’s own vision for a 20th Century landscape from Fresno Mall Revisited Landscape Architecture 1959:

“The plentitude of quiet and moving waters, and of shade and greenery from trees and arbors, symbolizes the bursting vitality of irrigated agriculture in the hot interior valley of the arid west”

This weekends tour may be one of the last times to enjoy this historic and influential space where the grand dame sits. Fulton Mall will be removed soon to restore vehicle traffic; in opposition of Eckbo’s vision yet fulfilling Renoir’s symbol of a virtually endless series of oppositions.

Join us! (Advance tickets needed)

Joyful Creativity

Born in Farmersville, California in 1925, Clement Renzi grew up milking cows and tending grapes while attending school in Visalia. Always an engaging and inquisitive person, Clement made friends as a child with a neighbor who taught him to play popular songs on her piano and took him to his first concert (performed by no less than the legendary Sergei Rachmaninoff).
He showed an enterprising streak, selling seeds door to door and driving the family’s horse and buggy to Visalia providing rides to visitors during Homecoming week. He also collected rare cactus and succulents and made a conscious effort to improve his vocabulary, earning him the nickname “Dictionary”.
The intervening years were spent at college, a term of service during the war and then more studies in the bay area where he met and married Dorothy Renzi. In the course of his career, which spanned more than 60 years, Clement Renzi produced a tremendous number of sculptures, prints, mosaics, paintings and other works, which can be found throughout the United States and beyond.

A few months after Clement’s move to Fresno, a teacher brought his class on a field trip to see Clem working. A statue of two women talking caught his eye. That piece, The Visit, was chosen and placed on the Fulton Mall. Clement spent eight months casting the piece in Madrid, Spain and shipped it to California. He later recalled the suspense of waiting months for his first Fresno commission to reach dry land, amid rumors that the freighter had been shipwrecked.

After The Visit, Clement’s career was launched in Fresno, and he enjoyed a steady stream of commissions for large bronzes for public venues in Fresno and beyond.

Renzi taught sculpture for a time at Fresno State but soon gave himself full-time to his commissions and also produced hundreds of smaller pieces in bronze and terra-cotta for a private collector. He cast many works at a foundry in Verona, Italy, and enjoyed periodic stays there with his family.
Although Clement Renzi passed away in 2009, his family hopes to preserve his artistic legacy and celebrate his rich and joyful life while encouraging a broader appreciation of the ideas that guided his work. Renzi personified the thought that artistic activity is universal in young children and asked why does this activity diminish dramatically with the passing years? He felt that all human beings are born with the capacity to organize and express their unique vision of the world in some creative fashion, while Renzi lived his life in such expression.

We visit The Visit on our next walking adventure Urban Art Taste Feb 4th... why not join us! discount tickets at Brown Paper Tickets .com.

Is Fresno, A Woebegone City?

Spanish and Mexican explorers passed up the valley’s fertile land which seemed desolate and barren on first sight; The 49er’s, bound for the foothills, scurried through the valley in haste to reach the gold digs in the Sierra’s. Fresno grew from a long history of hardscrabble, tenacious pioneers who founded our city:

Moses Church dug the earliest canal bringing water to the barren land,
later known as the Fresno Canal System
James Faber our city’s first merchant
James Porteous designed the Fresno Scraper, now known as a bulldozer, as
well as 200 other patented devises

And the list goes on……Eventually, settled by cattle ranchers and other pioneering families, Fresno was known as the ‘sorriest most woebegone little settlement on the map’* until the railroad chose it as a new mid-state stop in 1872 and it began to flourish.

Our city is once again faced with a dilemma; what are we to become? Let’s not forget George Santayana’s apt words: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. Will Fresno leaders remember from where we came in time to no longer be known as the sorriest most woebegone city in California or are we yet again doomed to repeat the numerous mistakes of failed potential?

Downtown Fresno has one of the few remaining urban pedestrian malls designed by renowned architect Garret Ekbo along with Gruen & Associates. Filled with world-class sculptures from the likes of Stan Bitter’s, James Hansen and even Renoir, the Fulton Mall is at a cross-roads, again; Now we await the findings of another set of hired designers to breathe life into the core of the city and does not look good for the Mall’s continued future. Even in its current city neglected state, the mall clings to life and About Town Taste examines the Mall, and it’s art, on our next adventure Saturday, March 5th 10a.

As do all our tours, this one includes food tastings along the way at local eateries, all included in the cost $25pp. So the restaurants can prepare a reservation is required so give us a call today! or 559.392.4471

*History of Fresno County, CA by Paul Allen 1919

Ironbird’s Art

Saturated with art Ironbird lofts are colorful and vibrant; there’s no way a resident can feel culturally deprived. Recently, artist Robert Amador took some time to finish several works in and around the lofts.
Asked by loft developer Reza Assemi to ‘bring some life’ to the hallways and utilitarian spaces Amador set to work only to be pulled away for yet another mural elsewhere. “By the time I returned to the project, there were 10 times the tenants living there, as there were when I originally started it, and the mess of paints, buckets of (fermented) water for brushes…still lay there…un touched” says Amador in his blog on the subject.
More for fun than an exercise in skill or technique, how any people can say ‘I live down the hall from the drippy horse thing’ or ‘go up the stairs but be sure to use the one that has the serpent with the Lenoesque head and not the man-in-the-moon face’?

Within the lofts property you are surrounded with imaginative and diverse works of such artists as Amador and sculptor Brandon Greer or muralists Jason Graham and Josh Wigger, to name a few. That doesn’t even count the numerous resident artists who display their work in shops of the neighborhood. The Lofts sit as a pivotal point of the mural district and are the anchor to a wonderfully saturated neighborhood filled with more art in its streets and alleys that anywhere else in the city. About Town Taste wanders into the lofts private spaces and around the district on its Art Born of Graffiti adventure next weekend, Nov. 13th. Why not join us as we explore the area and its art with some tasty food stops included…what will YOU discover?

Check us out on call 392.4471 or email Reservations are necessary so call today!

Urban planning irrevocably changed with the pedestrian mall –

-among the earliest, Fresno’s Fulton Mall in 1964. Designed by a partnership of Gruen Associates and Garrett Eckbo who was one of the most highly respected and influential American modernist landscape architects of the 20th century. Working to overthrow the Beaux-Arts system of landscape design which came before he sought to develop an approach that would address the social and economic challenges of the modern world, Eckbo was deliberately experimental, his designs centered on the garden, which he believed was the prototype for all landscape design.

His work was influenced by modernist European architecture, modern art favoring a more casual and fluid use of space, utilizing clustered plant materials, geometric abstraction, and circular space to lend unity to the landscape. In Eckbo’s mind the human pedestrian was part of “a designed landscape that would stress the relations between human and land without apologizing for the human presence.” Eckbo saw landscape architecture as a social art, and to the Fulton Mall, applied principles consistent with many of his civic projects: space between buildings to encourage group gathering, the use of water as a unifying focal element that also animated the public spaces, and the incorporation of shade that reflected the regional palette.
Drawing inspiration from the surrounding valley and Sierra’s he brought the nearby natural context into the city center. The pedestrian mall, constructed of stained concrete punctuated by sometimes gently curving or angular lines, suggests the contours of the valley floor and also provide a utilitarian purpose of assisting with run-off drainage.

Years later, some similar malls, such as Charlottesville remain economically viable, while others in Sacramento, Minneapolis, Allentown and elsewhere have been reopened to vehicle traffic. And Fresno? Well our mall was recently determined eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, but its condition is rather sad and the city has yet to finalize the placement to the register. What’s happening in Fresno is playing out elsewhere in communities with modernist urban landscape architecture as our rich and diverse legacy of modernist landscape architecture struggles for visibility with many of these designs misunderstood and under appreciated.

Join About Town Taste’s next walking adventure experiencing some of Garrett Eckbo’s brilliant work, the Fulton Mall, before its too late. Our tours feature exclusive interior access to some historic buildings and food stops along the route all woven together with stories of those who came before us. Reservations required via or 559 392 4471
Just $49 pp kids under 12 $25pp including all food