Historic pharmacy ‘golden age’ mural unveiled at KGI

“The History of Pharmacy,” a mural by local artists Paul Coates and Diane Divelbess, will be unveiled in the Founders Room of Keck Graduate Institute on Saturday, April 20 from 2 to 5 p.m.

Mr. Coates and Ms. Divelbess, both of who earned MFAs from Claremont Graduate University in 1960-61 during the “golden age” of southern California mosaics and murals, painted the 45’ by 8’ mural. It was originally installed on the wall of the former Hendrick’s Pharmacy building.

Consisting of 12 Masonite panels, the mural—which depicts the history of pharmacy, medicine and healing—is divided into 3 sections. The first depicts the history from “prehistoric man through the classical world.” The second illustrates “the development of the western European medieval world and the Renaissance through the 18th century,” and the third is dedicated to the history of the late 18th and 19th centuries as well as the mid-20th century.

Ms. Divelbess said that having no prior knowledge of pharmacy didn’t hinder Mr. Coates, who notably worked as a fresco mural assistant to Diego Rivera when the legendary Mexican arts was creating the Pan am Unity Mural in San Francisco.

 “I remember Paul pouring over the Encyclopaedia Britannica. After all, this was the pre-Google age,” she related. “He started with the major historical figures and then worked from there. It was really a crash course in the history of pharmacy. He was really excited about it, not just about the history of pharmacy, but about the history of early medicine as well.”

At the time, it was considered novel for a retail store, particularly a pharmacy, to displays so prominently a work by local artists, and stories about the mural were featured in several pharmacy magazines, including Pharmacy Today, NARD (the publication of the National Association of Retail Druggists) and West Coast Druggist.

When the building’s next occupant, Walter’s Restaurant, expanded in the late 1970s, the mural taken down and placed in storage. In 2012, Claremont Heritage found the ideal home for the mural at Keck Graduate Institute (KGI), which had recently established a School of Biopharmacy. It is now on permanent loan to the school.

KGI President Sheldon Schuster believes the mural couldn’t have found a better or more appropriate home.

“We are thrilled to have the mural here and the timing couldn’t be more perfect,” Mr. Schuster said. “Just as the mural shows the historical progress of pharmacy and medicine, we are also working to establish a program that will educate the next generation of pharmacy students and reflect 21st century realities

The April 20 viewing event will give guests the opportunity to meet Kathy Webster, the recently appointed dean of the School of Biopharmacy, as well as Ms. Divelbess.  Mr. Coates died in 1972 at age 61, but his son, Ladd Coates, will also be on hand.

His parents were divorced and, when he was in Claremont visiting his dad, who couldn’t cook anything except bologna sandwiches and coffee, they would head to the old Walter’s Café on Yale Avenue. The elder Mr. Coates would smoke and drink coffee while Ladd would have a hamburger. They would then head next store to browse at Hendricks, which was a full-service drugstore at the time.

One of the most memorable such outings took place in 1966, just before Ladd shipped out for Vietnam.

“He was so proud of me for being in uniform like he had been in World War II. He took me to Walter’s to eat a bunch of hamburgers. Then, we went next door to Hendricks, and the mural was hanging in its place up on the wall,” Mr. Coates said.

Keck Graduate Institute is located at 535 Watson Dr. in Claremont. For information, visit http://biopharmacy.kgi.edu.


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