Dewey Crumpler is an American painter and an associate professor at the San Francisco Art Institute.
Education and early life
Crumpler grew up in San Francisco and attended Balboa High School, an arts magnet school, graduating in 1967. He was involved in Civil Rights activism and showed his work around the city, eventually meeting artist Emory Douglas of the Black Panther Party. Both he and Douglas were part of a group of artists who met at Evangeline Montgomery’s apartment.
Crumpler’s work is in the permanent collections of the Oakland Museum of California, the Triton Museum of Art, and the California African American Museum.
Mural at George Washington High School
In 1936, Russian immigrant Victor Arnautoff was hired by the Works Progress Administration to paint a mural at George Washington High School in San Francisco. His work, Life of Washington, includes images of slavery and settlers stepping over a dead Native American.
Crumpler first saw the mural when he was a Balboa High School student visiting George Washington High School for a football game. He was impressed with the scale of the piece, but initially disliked how the work portrayed African Americans and Native Americans. A few years later, when he was 18 or 19, he was chosen to paint a corresponding mural in response to student activists upset by the Arnautoff work. To prepare for designing the mural, Crumpler traveled to around the country for research, which he was able to do due to his father working for Pan American World Airways. Crumpler viewed different murals and spoke with muralist William Walker. He then went to Mexico and received guidance from artist Elizabeth Catlett. In Mexico, he also met artists Pablo O’Higgins and David Alfaro Siqueiros. After being mentored by O’Higgins, Crumpler came to see Arnautoff’s murals as a critique of George Washington, rather than a celebration.
After going through multiple approval processes, Crumpler painted his mural Multi-Ethnic Heritage at the high school. It portrayed Latinos, Native Americans, Asian Americans, and African Americans in empowering ways, and included historic figures like Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta. He spoke out against the San Francisco School Board’s proposed destruction in 2019 of Arnautoff’s murals