Creating the Bernard Zakheim Murals: History of Medicine in California

Stories of New Deal-era murals told in immersive 3D experience


CyArk Scanning Toland Hall Murals (2020-07-21) by CyArkCyArk


Beginning in 2020 the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) and CyArk partnered to produce an educational Virtual Reality experience of the murals painted by artist Bernard Zakheim in the late 1930s. The murals depict the rich history of medicine in California and are a unique representation of the early years of medical science through art. CyArk digitally scanned them in place at UCSF before the fragile frescoes were carefully removed from a seismically vulnerable building, to preserve them, both physically and digitally, for future generations.

CyArk Scanning Toland Hall Murals (2020-07-21) by CyArkCyArk

Documenting the Murals

To document the murals and create the virtual experience, CyArk utilized methodologies in digital documentation. Through laser scanning, and photogrammetry, CyArk created a 3D-model of the murals with millimeter accuracy.

Joseph Allen, Phyllis Wrightson, Bernard Zakheim, and F. Stanley Durie in front of UCSF Toland Hall mural (1939)CyArk

History of the Murals

Dr. Chauncey Depew Leake, a professor in UCSF’s Department of Pharmacology, used University and Federal Art Project funds to commission local Polish-born artist Bernard Zakheim to paint a ten-panel set of murals for Toland Hall on UCSFs Parnassus Heights campus in 1936. 

History of the Murals

Leake and Zakheim were acquainted having previously partnered on a two-panel mural set in Cole Hall (also on the Parnassus Heights campus). The Toland Hall murals, painted on curved walls, were more ambitious in their architectural, educational, and artistic goals.

Scaffolding in front of incomplete Cole Hall mural (1937)CyArk

The murals, telling the early history of medicine in California, evoked a wide array of responses from the UCSF community after their completion in 1938. The murals were controversial to some due to their subject matter and political undertones, and when Leake left his position at UCSF in 1948 the faculty convinced University officials to cover up the Toland Hall murals with wallpaper. 

This decision was reversed in 1962 when Leake returned to UCSF and the murals were restored making them visible again. In 2021 the murals were carefully removed from Toland hall, located in a seismically vulnerable building, to a secure, climate-controlled storage facility.

Cheryl CoxCyArk

Living Legacy of California History

Aaron Jackson, a PhD candidate in the History of Health Sciences at UCSF, conducted extensive research on the murals and wrote the narrative for the virtual experience. CyArk recorded the narration featuring UCSF staff and faculty as well as Cheryl Cox, a direct descendant of Bridget “Biddy” Mason, one of the historical figures depicted in the murals.

History of Medicine in Southern California by Bernard ZakheimCyArk

Bridget "Biddy" Mason

Biddy Mason appears in the sixth panel of the Toland Hall murals depicting the history of medicine in Southern California. Bridget "Biddy" Mason was born into slavery in Georgia in 1818. Growing up on a cotton plantation in Mississippi she learned the healing arts and midwifery to become a nurse, midwife, and apothecary in her community. In the late 1840s and early 1850s Biddy travelled to California as an enslaved person, but after reaching Los Angeles she successfully petitioned and won her freedom. 

Bridget "Biddy" Mason

Biddy continued to work as a nurse and midwife while saving funds to become a wealthy real estate developer. She used her resources to support philanthropic work including founding a church, building a school, and assisting undeserved people. 

Bridget "Biddy" Mason

Biddy’s proverb endures today: “If you hold your hand closed. Nothing good can come in. The open hand is blessed for it gives an abundance even as it receives.”

UCSF Toland Hall History of Medicine Mural Digital Experience CyArk by CyArkCyArk

Explore California's History

CyArk created the resulting virtual tours that virtual visitors can engage in both through a web-based experience as well as in Virtual Reality. Explore the Virtual Tour here online and in virtual reality

CyArk Scanning Toland Hall Murals, CyArk, 2020-07-21, From the collection of: CyArk
UCSF and CyArk Logos, From the collection of: CyArk
History of Medicine in Southern California, Bernard Zakheim, From the collection of: CyArk
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Thank you to UCSF for bringing this project and history to life. Explore the Virtual Tour

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.