If they were not having the time of their lives, you could have fooled me. It was like Tom Sawyer whitewashing that fence. I kept wanting to blurt out: “Say, Tom, let me whitewash a little.” These were my thoughts while watching Lemon Grove artists-in-residence, Janne LaValle and Kathleen Strzelecki, having fun painting Modern Lemon Grove, the fifth and final section of the city’s historical mural.
Here’s a little history on the mural from Helen Ofield, president of the : “The Lemon Grove History Mural is a gift to the community by the Lemon Grove Historical Society and is supported by grants and donations from a wide range of generous, civic-minded people and organizations. Outside of The Big Lemon (a form of public art—folk art), it is the first public art installation in Lemon Grove and probably the only one in the county to depict the history of a community.”
At present, have been completed and installed. The panels include: The World of the Kumeyaay, depicting the original inhabitants of the area; the Spanish conquest of the 16th century; the Mexican empire in the early 1800s; and the beginnings of the city around the turn of the last century. The finished mural will be 65-feet wide with life-size characters, and will depict the history of Lemon Grove from antiquity to modern times.
Ofield explained that the final section will be an explosion of people, reflecting the leadership and diversity of our community as it has evolved from its roots to present time, when 22 languages and dialects are spoken in our eight schools.
I visited the work-in-progress at the Public Works building on Kempf Street. The city has generously donated a space where the large painting is bolted to a tall scaffolding. The accomplished urban artists were busy painting, but took time out to explain a bit about the content and their techniques.
Strzelecki and LaValle said the mural will contain at least 30 portraits of Lemon Grove notables, with an additional 60 human figures representing the wide diversity of the city. They told me that the painting process will take about two months to complete, while the conception and planning has taken nearly two years.
Strzelecki explained that since this mural will be outdoors much surface preparation is required, including an anti-graffiti coating that will protect the painting. She said tagging and weather are the greatest dangers to an outdoor work of art.
The pair started working together in 2006 with the creation of the first section of the mural. You have to admire people who genuinely like what they do—and clearly these two do, judging from their lively banter while I watched them paint. They were definitely enjoying this labor of love, and both said the painting was the fun part. My favorite tidbit was a conversation about whether a former mayor had parted his hair on the right or left side, because the two pictures they had showed it parted on different sides. After some discussion, they asked me—I thought the part should be on the left. The devil is always in the details.
The final section of the mural should be finished sometime in May, and will be installed on the south wall of the , 3308 Main Street at Pacific Street. LaValle and Strzelecki invited me back anytime just to hang out. Sounds fun, so I will keep you posted on the progress.