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Historic Blunders

The easternmost city in the San Francisco Bay area, Livermore, takes a quiet pride in its culture. Citizens who eschew the delights of Livermore Rodeo (established in 1918) can instead choose from the Livermore-Amador Symphony Orchestra, the Valley Choral Society, Livermore Valley Opera and the Valley Dance Theatre.

And then there is the new library, a state-of-the-art building which became something of a household name when it opened in 2004, albeit for reasons which the city council might prefer the outside world to forget.

The cause of the library's brief infamy lies outside the $26 million building, taking the form of a 4.8-metre-wide ceramic mural adorning the main entrance. The brightly coloured artwork, commissioned from the Miami-based artist Maria Alquilar for $40,000, has in its centre the tree of life, around which are images of Livermore, and icons representing great figures from throughout history.

It is the names of these figures, and more specifically the spelling of the names, that caused such a furore when the mosaic was unveiled. For here were Shakespere, Vangough and Michaelangelo, alongside the artist Gaugan and the Athenian king Thesues.

All in all, 11 of the 175 names and words on the mural were misspelled, with at least a further two in the "acceptable alternative spelling"

category. Most distressing of all in a city famed for its Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and home to several hundred nuclear physicists, was the scientist Eistein.

"It hurts to look at it," one academic commented when she went to withdraw a book on the first day of opening. However, the artist seemed less than contrite when the media descended on her in her Santa Cruz studio. "The people that are into humanities, and are into Blake's concept of Enlightenment, they are not looking at the words," she said. "In their mind, the words register correctly."

Nevertheless, after pointing out that there were others who could have spotted the errors before they were set in concrete, she agreed to fly up to Livermore and fix the problem ... for an additional fee of pound;6,000.

Plus expenses.

Ceramic ground mural at Livermore library entrance

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