Arty facts

Art historians at Chico State University were all abuzz this week following an amazing discovery in downtown Chico. Recent vegetation trimming in the parking lot that sits between Chevy’s Fresh Mex restaurant and the building that once housed Perché No! café along Second Street has revealed an ancient wall painting on the side of the Perché No! building. Experts’ initial hunches that the painting depicts Chico’s founders, General John and Annie Bidwell, are all but confirmed. Further investigation indicates the long-lost mural is actually the work of famed Chico artist Scott Teeple, which if true, could make the side of that brick building worth millions. Apparently the mural has been there for 20 years but was lost and forgotten a few years ago when the Chevy’s owners decided to plant palm trees and other non-native flora in front of the Teeple masterpiece. Over time the trees and plants grew to eventually obscure the general and his lovely wife.

Actually, that is a gross exaggeration. That wall’s not worth millions, and I’ve known all along that the Bidwells’ faces were behind those palm leaves. Heck, I complained in this column when Chevy’s decided to plant those palms in front of the general. This week I got a letter from Dorothy and George Reeve (hey, wasn’t he Superman?) that mentioned the Teeple painting. “We were greatly bothered by the growth in Chevy’s parking lot that had virtually covered John Bidwell in the mural painted by local artist Scott Teeple,” the Reeves write. “After a few phone calls, we met with manager Quinto Ibana of Chevy’s Fresh Mex, who walked outside with us to see our concern. He said he would talk to the yard people and we should call in two weeks.” The Reeves say they did just that and Ibano told them, “They’re gone!” The Reeves confirm: “We drove by to see and they are gone!” (When I first read that, I thought maybe the Reeves meant the Bidwells are gone.) The Reeves letter continues: “A big THANK-YOU to a big chain that values a small town’s history.”

I walked over there to see for myself. And yes, the strange tropical parking-lot plant right next to the mural has received a severe trimming reminiscent of Sgt. Vince Carter‘s flattop. But the big palm tree is still there, blocking John’s face. I think that if Chevy’s really wants to get back into the town’s good graces, it should uproot that tree as well and maybe move it out to the Andrew Meghdadi property. That would be, as the politicians like to say, a win-win-win, common-sense solution.

Last week Maryland-based writer Edwin Black came to town to lecture and discuss his book and newspaper articles that detail how IBM helped Nazi Germany identify and purge the Jews from Poland prior to and during World War II. Black had called me about a week before his visit to ask me about the News & Review, its size and circulation and so forth. Then he said was sending me his latest article so we could run it to coincide with his visit. I hesitated. We already had a cover story in place, but I was willing to look at it, I said. That night I sent an e-mail back to Black saying I wasn’t going to run the piece. For one thing, I already had a story in place—we schedule a few weeks ahead here. But I made the mistake of telling Black in my e-mail that, because of the current situation in the Middle East, I was a bit hesitant to run this as a cover story. I told him it was an important piece. But this was a flashpoint, and some might interpret our running the story on our cover as a sign that we side with the Israelis. I realized that was poor reasoning, so I sent a second e-mail to Black explaining I could run the piece if it were edited down drastically.

But Black had already received my first e-mail and apparently gone nuts. I called him on his cell phone. He was walking the streets of New York City, he told me, with his publisher. “This is big! This is huge!” he exclaimed of my refusal to run his story on the cover. “It’s all over the world! I’ve sent this to the Jewish Defense League! They know about this in Israel!” “But, but,” I sputtered. “Huuuge!” he said again. Great, I thought. Tomorrow I’ll wake up to Ariel Sharon sitting in a tank across the street from my house with its cannon trained on my front porch. But it was quiet for the next few days. Then I got another e-mail from Black saying he wanted to be paid for his piece. This guy, I told myself, is the master of self-promotion. I think I spotted him the day he was in town, walking west along Second Street, heading into the Naked Lounge for a cup of caffeine. I was half tempted to go over and introduce myself. But I thought better of it.