Cayuga and Naglee Avenue
In 2011 I read this wonderful article in Conversations.org and was intrigued to visit Cayuga Park and Demetrio Braceros’ work. I drove to Cayuga Playground to discover that it was closed. The sign said it would reopen in a few months. Alas, the work took until August of 2013 to actually finish the work.
Here is an excerpt from the interview:
…Demetrio was born in the Philippines. He had taught industrial arts there. He’d come to the Bay Area in 1977, I think He’d worked at the Arboretum in Golden Gate Park for three years.
I didn’t get the details about how he was given responsibility for the undeveloped parcel of land on Cayuga Street, but it happened in 1986, twenty years ago. At that time the place was just a raw stand of weeds and unkempt trees. In the neighborhood, he told us, “there were prostitutes, drug dealers and crime. People got killed up there,” Demetrio told us, pointing to houses along the southern edge of the park. It was bad. “I thought to myself, how can I help this place?” he told us.
Speaking to Carlo, he tried to explain himself by quoting a biblical reference, “Let there be Light.” It was hard to make out the words. Demetrio took Carlo by the arm and we all walked over to another one of his sculptures, a bust which might have been the head of Jesus. It was hard to say, but under it was written, “Let there be Light.” Demetrio pointed to it. “There was darkness here,” he said. “Evil. It needed light.” “These are not mine,” he said, speaking of all the pieces of sculpture he’d made. Across the language barrier I made out something like this: “Whatever this creative ability it is that has been given to me, it is not mine to claim for myself, but to use for the good of all.” All that he did, he told us, was for someone else: his employer, “the taxpayers,” he said, pointing to us. It went beyond that, I knew.
The explanation was another piece of shorthand. Braceros, as best I could understand, landscaped the entire site, choosing the plants and getting them planted, and he’s maintained it ever since. But that was only the beginning of his work, the part he was being paid to do. There was another part, the part he felt called to do for other reasons. All the wood for his carvings comes from the park itself, he told us. The first large piece came from a big Monterey Cypress that had blown over. “Here it is, over here,” he said, leading us to an impressive carved figure that, somehow, I’d missed before. It was tucked into a half circle of large bushes. He explained that the piece showed a man reading “The Book of Knowledge.” As he searched for words to explain his idea more fully, I remembered what he’d said when my wife and I had met him earlier: “I wanted to inspire the kids.” This piece was about the importance of learning, of getting an education…
The City of San Francisco and the SFAC worked with conservators to stabilize roughly 130 of Braceros’s sculptures. The process entailed removing the sculptures from the park, clearing away accumulated detritus such as dirt, mold and bugs, and applying a protective coating to help the artworks better withstand the elements. The revitalized sculptures are on display throughout the park, while the remainder are in storage or have been left in place to be reclaimed by the soil.
There are entirely too many sculptures for me to show them all to you here, but one day, take a stroll in the Cayuga Playground and just marvel at the work of Demetrio Braceros, and celebrate the fact that the city did right by Mr. Braceros, the neighbors, and the park by maintaining the sculptures as an integral part of the design.
Demetrio retired in 2008.