October 14, 2012

Kaiser Permanente Richmond’s new outdoor art tells wartime story

Shipyard workers from World War II are the stars of the new KP Richmond public art display on Macdonald Avenue. Photo by Ginny McPartland, Heritage Resources

“We came from everywhere” was the theme that inspired the selection of wartime shipyard worker portraits for the newly installed Kaiser Permanente Richmond public art display on Macdonald Avenue, the main street of Richmond, California.

One of the modern-day faces of Kaiser Permanente in Richmond, California. Photo by Ginny McPartland, Heritage Resources

Truly, the Kaiser Richmond Shipyard workers did come from seemingly everywhere — from Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Iowa, Nebraska, New York, Chicago, California, and many more places. They were white, black, Hispanic, Native American, Middle Eastern and Asian. They came to build ships to supply the war effort, and many of them stayed, remarkably influencing the demographics of today’s San Francisco Bay Area.

With the Macdonald Avenue art installation, KP Richmond seized the rare opportunity to add to the abundance of public art springing up in Richmond of late and to highlight the connection the health plan has to the community. Kaiser Permanente’s first patients were shipyard workers, and the health plan has been caring for its Richmond members continuously since 1942.

The project started as a condition of approval for the development of a KP parking lot on Macdonald Avenue at 8th street. The city of Richmond, deeply committed to beautifying the community, asked for a façade that would blend in with the improvements already made on the city’s main street and obscure the view of a surface parking lot.

The condition turned into an inspired effort to help tell the story of Richmond’s role in the Second World War. Local artist Ron Holthuysen of Scientific Art Studio was selected to design the installation, which is made up of ceramic tiles carrying photographic images. Holthuysen also created the “Memories of Macdonald,” historical photographic stands that were placed along Macdonald Avenue in 2006.

Richmond artist Ron Holthuysen with his KP artwork in progress in his studio. Photo by Ginny McPartland, Heritage Resources.

Images for the new display were picked from the hundreds of Richmond Shipyard photos archived in the Henry J. Kaiser Collection in the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley and from the Richmond Public Library. The pictures that represent modern-day Kaiser Permanente were selected from KP Richmond’s collection of photos of members and community activities.