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Demetrio Braceros, Cayuga Park

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About the Artist/Site

Demetrio Braceros, or ‘Demi’ for short,  emigrated in 1973 from his native Philippines to San Francisco. Upon arriving in the US, Braceros worked at a law firm, and then for three years at the Arboretum in Golden Gate Park; following that, he applied for and was hired for a job as a gardener at the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department. Years later, in 1986, Braceros was randomly assigned to Cayuga Park, with the directive to “change the atmosphere.”

The park is situated at a dead end street in the Excelsior, a neighborhood with Interstate 280 its northern border and with BART commuter trains passing overhead. It is a residential neighborhood of single-family homes tucked away between Geneva Avenue, San Jose Avenue, and Alemany Boulevard.  In those days Cayuga Park  had a large playing field, a playground, and a network of pathways surrounding the main field. Braceros began his work, transforming a barren landscape into a park that featured lush vegetation, numerous walking trails, themed gardens, and nearly 400 carved figures, totem poles, statues, and even a few observation decks — almost all created from wood Braceros found onsite. When he began working at the park, its playfield was flooded and littered with trash, there was little if any landscaping, and city gang members were more common patrons of the park than were children. Braceros filled Cayuga Park with blooming herbs, waving daisies, and his sculptures, turning it into a neighborhood oasis. He made totem poles depicting celebrities like ballplayer Barry Bonds and local journalist Herb Caen, as well as John Lennon, Michael Jordan, Princess Diana, and others. He also crafted the “Garden of Eden” pathway—complete with Biblical carvings such as Moses and the burning bush, and Adam and Eve at the base of an apple tree into which was carved a big wooden snake. Braceros also developed a September 11 memorial flower bed, carvings that pay tribute to the park’s Native American namesake, and many signs which spread the message of peace, joy, and love.

The wood he used for nearly all the sculptures, archways, and other such displays came from fallen cypress trees within the park itself that Braceros decidedly repurposed. For his largest work, an elevated patio, where visitors can sit, relax and view the park, Braceros used a giant tree trunk he brought in from the Presidio Park at the other end of San Francisco – but nearly all other works came from reclaimed wood found onsite.

Braceros has said he carves celebrities to inspire children, and carves religious figures to appeal to the spirituality of visitors. Some of the carvings are simple depictions of parents and kids; others are abstract, and still others are just for fun. In 2008, at age 68, Braceros retired.

Braceros first learned about gardening in his home village in the Philippines and is said to have studied some art in college. About his carvings, he has said: “My whole goal in life is to do something good for people.” This is evident when viewing his works in Cayuga—Braceros created for others, not for himself. For most of his carvings, Braceros used a chainsaw and chisel. Some he fabricated in days, but others could take weeks. Braceros won numerous awards and received recognition for his work locally and from park visitors. Among neighborhood residents he is considered a community builder and a miracle maker. He is a hero in his own right, as he created a space in which people can commune, relax, and enjoy.In December 2011, the park was closed for a $9.4 million renovation. During renovations, the San Francisco Arts Commission (SFAC) took inventory of 376 wooden sculptures in the park, and about one-third were determined to be in good condition and given new protective coatings. Another third were in fair condition and have been removed to storage, while the remainder, in poor condition, were left where they were to be viewed by visitors, and to slowly decompose in their natural habitat. The SFAC restored several of Braceros’s sculptures with new coats of paint and protective coatings to prevent further decomposition of the artist’s works. The park was reopened in 2013 with a new 2,500-square-foot clubhouse, an upgraded children’s play area, and refurbished basketball and tennis courts. Demetrio Braceros’s legacy thus lives on, as he, nearly single-handedly, made Cayuga Park a more beautiful, safe, and pleasant place to visit and in which to spend time.

 

~Emily Betts Susanin

 

Sources:

http://www.inglesidelight.com/2015/02/26/how-saving-cayuga-park-united-the-neighborhood/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cayuga_Park

http://www.sfgate.com/homeandgarden/article/EXCELSIOR-Gardener-creates-Eden-at-playground-2724223.php

http://www.conversations.org/story.php?sid=106

http://feastofweeds.com/cayuga/gardener.html

http://www.artandarchitecture-sf.com/tag/demetrio-braceros

http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Cayuga-Playground-reopens-4739305.php

 





Map and site information

1800 Cayuga Avenue
San Francisco, California, United States
Latitude/Longitude: 37.714266 / -122.449423

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