History Inside History: Sculptor Dudley Carter

by Victor Turks
For the Diego Rivera Mural Project
Spring 2000

1 was wondering what the Diego Rivera Mural means to people. What would it eventually mean to City College students ? What could they learn from it ? But beyond contemplation of a work of art, there's research, too. Who was Dudley Carter, for example ? What was his life like?

During his long life (he lived to be 9O something), Dudley Carter chopped wood and made it into a work of art. He worked on many projects, including the Ram at City College, and another piece, a totem pole called the "Goddess of the Forest," which was displayed in Golden Gate Park for a long time. Without even knowing it, I had the honor of standing next to a Carter creation when I was in high school. I wrote a story about it, Frankly Speaking, and what follows is a pointed excerpt:

"In my 1963 high school graduation yearbook, bound with the school colors scarlet and black - you can find Frank Heintz. Look at Frank's picture. He's smiling. Clad in a tuxedo jacket or casual Pendleton 100% Virgin wool shirt hanging out, Frank is Frank. Things are definitely looking up for him, the assured look on his face says.

At Polytechnic High School on Frederick Street, right across the street from Kezar Stadium, brainy Frank and I were in Mr. John Summerfield's afternoon 7 period trigonometry class. Up and down staircases between classes we exchanged respectful glances though in truth we were really strangers. Frank played French horn in the school orchestra, so he stood out if you were in the dark assembly hall taking in the show. On top of that, he was a gifted honor roll student on his way to the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music.

Whenever the teacher singled Frank out and made a big deal out of how he was going places in front of the rest of the class, I just rolled my eyes and couldn't take it anymore. Frank's publicly acclaimed greatness was a reminder of my own shortcomings, for lack of a better word. Far from a successful path myself, I revolted when the internal misery got to be too much.

How could anybody give his whole life over to music ? I just didn't get it.

It was like studying to become a priest or nun, renouncing the world, amounting to a hill of beans. A stubborn boy, I couldn't ma ke heads or tails out of so many things back then in high school.

In hindsight, Frank was another story. He had a delicate and reserved temperament. He was cautious, and had the innate wisdom to see the right path to travel down. I admired and envied his sangfroid from a distance. He had authority. Frank held his head high, with an aristocratic bearing that seemed to come so effortlessly his feet barely touched the ground. I was looking at a superior boy.

You didn't see Frank Heintz cutting class, hanging around and munching greasy French fries in Johnson's fast-food diner next to the boy's gym where the Ganges Indian Vegetarian Restuarant is today. He had the good sense to follow his star straight to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. In a pre-calculator, precomputer age, endowed with the smarts God gave him, Frank worked wonders with his nifty slide-rule. With the the greatest of ease, it seemed, Frank aced all his AP courses, Chemistry, Physics, French, etc., all the while making beautiful music with other orchestra members under the direction of Mr. Stanley Shaff.

Flipping through the yearbook some more, we come across Frank again. A different picture, but the same winning smile and poise. More kudos for Frank Heintz. This time he is voted "Intelligent" ideal senior.

And where did all this leave me ?

I still had a long long way to go. I knew it and maybe's that's why I joined the cross-country team. We trained after school at Big Rec in Golden Gate Park next to Lincoln Way and Seventh Avenue. Clip-board in hand, Coach Walter Lester had us doing figure-8s weaving around the two baseball diamonds under his watchful eye.

On a race day we competed against other high schools in the city. We gathered in Lindley Meadow under the "Goddess of the Forest" totem pole carved with a single ax by Dudley C. Carter for the 1939 Golden Gate Exposition on Treasure Island. A band of scrawny kids huddling together, we were antsy to take off, a little like the horses in their stalls in the Polo Fields just over the knoll.

I ran barefooted from start to finish over the dirt paths and dewy grasss, dodging sporadic gopher holes the length of foggy Old Speedway Meadow all the way to the cypress tree finish line still standing today.

Spent and dazed after the race, I walked the long distance back to school where I showered and changed into my street clothes in the steamy locker room. The strenuous work-out had done some good by toughening me up a bit, and leaving me calm and steady on my feet. On the way home, I treated myself to a big bran muffin at Metz doughnuts on Haight Street and a bottle of Squirt soda from the liquor store to wash it down with.

Looking back on that cross-country season ages ago, a boyhood memory burning bright, I competed respectedly enough in the open air races. But who would've ever guessed I'd go the zillions of miles past those dreary high school days all the way to this story I write today ?

Take it from Frank.

PS. I understand there are two movie reels about Dudley Carter in the library, and I plan to show them to my students next semester.

Maybe they'll be inspired to write some stories of their own.