Local News

New bike tunnel mural, street mandala and art benches ready to debut

By From page A1 | April 06, 2014

Several public art projects are moving forward this week, as the Community Built Association — a national nonprofit organization based in Oakland that helps communities “reshape public spaces” — holds its annual conference in Davis.

Conference attendees are participating in several local projects that demonstrate the organization’s approach.

The projects include:

* A new outdoor mural, emphasizing valley oaks and other trees and plants indigenous to the region, which now graces the bike tunnel that connects the eastern end of the UC Davis Arboretum, the Davis Commons shopping center and South Davis. The mural will be dedicated Monday at 5:30 p.m.

* A colorful “street mandala” that will be painted Sunday at the intersection of Fourth and K streets in Old East Davis.

* Four “art benches” placed along the Putah Creek Parkway, a 3.5-acre site with an urban nature trail located near the bike tunnel.

The tunnel mural was created by a team of community members working with artist Caryl Yasko, a nationally recognized muralist. Yasko, who lives in Wisconsin, came to Davis in February and worked with locals to discuss the theme for the mural.

“We discussed Davis, and what grows here, and a lot of the people in those discussions were gardeners, and people who volunteer at the Arboretum,” Yasko recalled.

Emily Griswold, director of the UC Davis GATEways Horticulture and Teaching Gardens at the Arboretum, said that early on, it was decided that “the mural would have a theme related to the natural history of Putah Creek,” and that the mural also should embody “the idea of flow,” since a sort of river of bicycles flows through the tunnel, as the bike path follows what was once the Putah Creek creekbed.

Given the tunnel’s proximity to the Arboretum, the mural discussions gradually focused on the stately canopy of valley oaks that are found in that enclave — “heritage trees,” as they are known. This led to a title for the mural: “I am Quercus” (the botanical name for the valley oak is Quercus lobata).

The design for the mural was sketched out over several days by a team of 25 to 50 participants, who worked in the former Dimple Records store downtown, a venue spacious enough to host a mock-up representing the actual tunnel.

“That ‘studio space’ in the old record store was a mural artist’s dream,” Yasko told The Enterprise. “We made line drawings, and from those line drawings, we pulled out beautiful elements that we could use in the bike tunnel mural.”

As the design was created, Yasko and the other participants tried to picture the images they were creating as they would be experienced going through the tunnel on a bicycle, then emerging to see “flat hills in the distance, like you see around the valley.” Passing through the tunnel at bike speed, Yasko wanted the mural to embody “a beat, a rhythm” that would touch on the changing of the seasons through the year.

On one end of the tunnel, the mural depicts a winter/spring theme in appropriate colors, while the other end reflects summer and fall. “One side is gold, another part is California green, which is different from Wisconsin,” Yasko said. “Since the tunnel goes through what used to be the creek bed, we decided to put images of water on the bottom of the mural on either side.”

Yasko has been creating murals since the late 1950s.

“It’s something I enjoy, and I enjoy working with the public,” she said. “And if you participate in creating a mural, it becomes your project. And then passersby come to ‘own it’ by seeing it.”

The finished mural is 70 feet long, 12 feet wide and covers a total of 2,300 square feet, counting the tunnel’s “wing walls” and interior.

The street mandala at Fourth and K is being created by artist Mark Rivera, working with a team of volunteers, many from the immediate neighborhood. The design emerged through a series of discussions involving Rivera and neighborhood residents, who wanted an artwork that reflected the bicycle-friendly nature of the town, as well as the mix of neighborhood greenery and a “slightly industrial” feel that reflects some of the nearby corporation yards and related facilities.

“The mandala will be 40 feet across, and it’s a circle,” Rivera explained. “It will help with traffic calming, slowing the cars down a bit, and beautifying the space. … It will become a ‘neighborhood identifier.’ ”

The outer ring of the mandala will include the images of leaves and vines, “creating a sense of wholeness and connectedness,” he said. “As you go toward the center of the mandala, there are two different blue rings, and the very center will be the manhole (that already existed in the intersection). There are also a couple of different-sized images of bicycle tires.”

Rivera and his team have been cutting out stencils this week, and on Sunday, the intersection will be closed to through traffic. Painting will begin sometime around 10 a.m.

“We basically have one day to paint the whole mural,” Rivera said.

It will be painted in phases, in a way that resembles the hands of an old-style clock moving around the clock’s face.

“By the time we finish painting the first layer of color, and work our way around, the part where we started will be dry enough to add the next layer,” Rivera said. While the intersection will be closed, pedestrians should be able to stroll close enough to see the mandala being created over the course of the day.

“And it will be very colorful,” he added. “Purple, yellow, green, light blue and dark blue, orange and red. Plus a little black.”

Cathy Forkas, a neighborhood resident for 30 years, said the idea of creating a street mural stems in part from the street mandalas that have been created by artists in Oregon.

“I went to Portland and got inspired by what they were doing there, then I went around the neighborhood and talked to people, and everybody was excited about it,” she said.

The finished street mandala is intended to last for several years.

“The idea is to start it and then every two years the community will come together and touch it up a bit,” Rivera said. “The idea is to take pride in caring for this shared space. It’s something that continues over the years as a kind of neighborhood rejuvenation.”

The four “art benches” are ferro cement with mosaic added, reflecting the natural elements along the urban nature trail and providing places where walkers can pause, sit and reflect.

“The attractive natural topography of the creek channel and the remnants of the original creek vegetation make this an ideal location to site benches,” according to the  design proposal.

The artwork features themes drawn from the Arboretum’s nearby California Native Plant Garden. One of the benches is being created by veteran Davis artist Donna Billick, whose work can be seen around town as well as on the steps of the state Capitol in Sacramento; another bench is being done by Tom Arie Donch, an artist with a studio in Vallejo who has done outdoor pieces in more than 20 states.

The street mandala is being funded through the city’s Municipal Art Fund. PG&E provided a grant to the Arboretum for the bike tunnel mural.

— Reach Jeff Hudson at [email protected] or 530-747-8055.

Jeff Hudson

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