Hunger Has No Color

Mural history

Artists: John Acosta, Richard Schletty, Armando Gutierrez G.

Year Completed: 1985

Dimensions: 60 ft. wide x 12 ft. high

Location: South wall of Captain Ken’s Foods building, at 344 So. Robert St., at intersection of E. Colorado St., 4 blocks north of Cesar Chavez St. (old Concord St.), on St. Paul’s “West Side”.

Medium/Materials: Acrylic-latex house paints — used only primer colors dark brown and white. Original intention was to do the underpainting in grayscale and lay transparent washes of color over that (Bistre method). The grayscale painting by itself ended up having a remarkable strength without the addition of color…so we left it that way. That is in contrast to other West Side murals which are typically brightly colored.

Funding: COMPAS, Northern States Power, First National Bank.

Commissioned by: Emergency Fund Service (aka St. Paul Food Bank)…now known as Second Harvest.

Grant written by Anne Maertz.

Purpose of mural: Promote food shelf at Neighborhood House. Raise people’s awareness of the issue of hunger. Pictured are people from different nationalities working to eliminate hunger.

Miscellaneous: Commercial offset lithographic prints were made of the mural.

Dedication in 1985. L to R: Armando Gutierrez, John Acosta, Mayor George Latimer, Richard Schletty, Dick Goebel.

Schletty posing in front of his portrait at 1985 dedication

2023-2024 restoration of Hunger Has No Color mural

We are seeking grants to fund a 2023 restoration of the “Hunger Has No Color” mural which is on the Captain Ken’s Foods building. The current cost estimate for the 2023 Hunger restoration is approximately $17,000. This project will bring back to the wall the three original artists, 38 years after they created the mural in 1985.

Please contact John Traxler if you have ideas for funding our 2023 restoration.

The photos immediately below, taken in fall of 2022, show the fading that has occurred due to sunlight and the damage due to water freeze-thaw cycles. The gutter problem, as described in this document, has been fixed. A new heavy duty gutter has been installed by Captain Ken’s Foods.

2010 restoration of “Hunger Has No Color” mural

Restoration work began in mid-September 2010. John Acosta and Richard Schletty restored water-damaged areas on the far left side of the hunger mural. We gave the entire mural a “fresh-up” to restore sun-faded areas.

Funding for the 2010 restoration of the “Hunger Has No Color” mural was provided by Captain Ken’s FoodsThe City of St. Paul Cultural STAR program, and the Riverview Economic Development Association.

Photos of 2010 restoration

Excerpt from City Pages article

The Writing on the Wall
Divining the future of a city one mural at a time
by Keith Harris
published in City Pages: September 12, 2001

A novice in the world of public art, I recently undertook a monthlong survey of as many murals in Minneapolis and St. Paul as my eyes could take in, with just a few guidebooks and the helpful advice of experts guiding my forays. Below are about 20 of the works that stood out, accompanied by a mélange of my impressions, the artists’ commentary, and whatever other material seemed interesting. (Also, City Pages’ David Schimke visits a studio the size of a hangar where a team of Mexican and American artists are creating a mosaic that will go up on a wall in Minneapolis’s Longfellow neighborhood just a few weeks hence.) By the way, I am by no means claiming that these are the “best” murals in the Twin Cities, and just because I omitted a piece doesn’t mean it isn’t noteworthy. So let’s just stop that flurry of letters to the editor starting “How could you overlook the puzzle-like, negative-image lettering on the side of the U of M studio arts building?” and “What kind of idiot would fail to mention Roger Nelson’s work on the Kmart building on Lake Street?” This piece is meant as an introduction, not a conclusion. In any case, these existing murals are now part of the psychological landscape of the Cities…

344 S. Robert Street • St. Paul, MN • 1985
John Acosta, Richard Schletty, Armando Gutierrez

Tucked away in its own corner of the metropolis, St. Paul’s West Side is, in many ways, a world unto itself. It’s a neighborhood you aren’t likely to stumble across–a place where a green left-turn arrow doesn’t necessarily mean you have the right of way. (When turning left from Concord to State at the five-way intersection at the heart of this district, you’ve got to yield to traffic from George Street–regardless of what it says in your drivers-ed manual.) And it’s a spot whose Latino heritage has been nurtured and revitalized, causing the core to be renamed District del Sol.

Under the purview of the Riverview Economic Development Association, residents and businesses are deliberately cultivating the aesthetic of the neighborhood. Several murals from the Seventies have been repainted. Several others, now badly faded, are being painted over. In the future, REDA intends to place works on those walls that promise maximum longevity for public art.

One of the most striking of the images that remains is a black, white, and gray mural that adorns a food bank just south of the river. Where most murals attempt to dazzle with bright splashes of primaries and pastels, Hunger Has No Color takes its title literally. “All of us had training in classical realism,” explains painter John Acosta. “We wanted to stay in the tradition of the old masters – pictures of our wives and children and some people who actually work for the food bank.” Stark but not grim, the piece has a gritty, photographic feel that is uncommon among the more florid murals of West St. Paul.

source: (ceased publication on October 29, 2020)

Excerpt from Making District Del Sol: The Murals of Saint Paul’s West Side

by Jenna Frances Harris, May 2008
PDF download: Making District Del Sol – The Murals of Saint Paul’s West Side.pdf

Images of a Diverse and Racially Harmonious West Side

Works which depicted the neighborhood’s diversity of residents living together harmoniously became particularly popular in the mid 80s through the 90s.  First with “Hunger Has No Color” and with “The Heroes” mural following, West Side art began to depict multi-racial solidarity and highlight the community’s strength in diversity.   Chicano murals influenced the diversity projects stylistically by referencing histories and places before immigration to Minnesota; however, in contrast, those painted in the 90s showed a wide range of ethnicities brought together by the West Side community.  Acosta notes that subject matter shifted, “because the artists have changed. They have come from different backgrounds.” Unlike the small Chicano artist enclave of the 70s and 80s, in the 90s West Side muralists were diverse in background and style.

The first mural painted in the West Side that did not portray exclusively images of Mexico was “Hunger Has No Color” (Fig. 3) in 1985.  Commissioned by the West Side Food Bank and painted by the ethnically mixed artists, John Acosta, Richard Schletty and Armando Gutierrez the mural became one of the first non-Chicano styled murals that actively presented strength in diversity. These artists painted a scene that depicted, “people from different backgrounds working together to eliminate hunger and poverty.”  Although originally intending to paint the worldwide struggle against poverty, using emaciated figures with bloated stomachs, eventually the artists decided to portray a local conflict.

The black and white mural starkly differentiates itself from the earlier scenes of colorful Aztec warriors and Mexican mythology because it portrays 27 actual West Side residents, coming together through a commitment to feeding the community.   In contrast with the Chicano murals of the previous decade, which celebrated a long ago history in a faraway country, “Hunger Has No Color” changes West Side’s artistic focus from an earlier one of ethnic pride to images of a diverse but unified community. The realism and lack of color adds to the weight of the mural’s message. Now one of the most recognized West Side artworks because of its style, the mural stands out as “stark but not grim.  The piece has a gritty, photographic feel that is uncommon to the more florid murals of West Saint Paul.” The artists, who were trained in realism painted in that style which was popularized in the 60s and 70s.  Scholars note that New Realism “at the very least and often at the most these were displays of craftsmanship.  But they might be turned to social commentary… The effect was bold and had the high visibility desirable for murals.  The strong contrasts intensified the three-dimensional patterns.”

Acosta explained his shift in subject matter as a response to some viewers who “saw the Aztec painting and said I don’t relate to that… You know when you are doing murals you want to create something [the community] can feel good about and get connected to.” The artists’ use of West Side faces made the mural and its message specific to the West Side community and their concerns. “Hunger Has No Color” allowed muralists and residents to look at their community and begin to address issues that directly affected their neighborhood.