“We’ve got a wall. Why not paint a mural on it?” said Sonja Harris, director of company development and co-owner of Conifer Communications.
That was the initial thinking behind a current colorful mural project being painted on a retaining wall at the San Andreas company’s main office. Harris and other project coordinators wanted to promote various aspects of the community, while incorporating the help of student artists.
“One of things we really wanted to do is … we wanted to promote our local flora and do something fun, but as we were talking about it, we got the idea of the power of words,” Harris said. “We came up with the word ‘welcome,’ and we’ve put it in different languages across the mural.”
Drivers and others heading south on Highway 49 will be ‘welcomed’ in English, Spanish, Italian, Chinese and Dutch. Originally, they were going to use German instead of Dutch, but the translation proved to be too long. Harris said they wanted to use the languages to pay homage to the settlers of the area.
Property owner Zerrall McDaniel was onboard with the project, so Harris reached out to Kathy Mazzaferro, executive director of the Calaveras County Arts Council about a year ago to brainstorm on the next step. Knowing they wanted to enlist students, they reached out to Devon York, the art teacher at Calaveras High School. Students Emma Hohn, Summer Cummings, Sarah Araujo and Elizabeth Metzger were brought onboard to paint the stretch of wall that runs along Conifer’s parking lot.
To oversee the project, veteran mural painter and retired teacher Dusty Dustyn volunteered her services. One of Dustyn’s past murals can be seen directly across the intersection from the new mural on the side of the building housing the Calaveras County Chamber of Commerce.
“I’ve just done what projects kind of come my way, and Toyon Middle School keeps me pretty busy in the spring because they like to do campus beautification,” Dustyn said. “They have about six new murals that have just been mounted.”
The recent adverse weather has been a deterrent to completing the mural, but the crew is dedicated to finishing before Calaveras High School holds graduation on June 6 next week.
“Our May showers have had some control over the timeline and space in a way we haven’t expected,” Harris said.
Mural projects also offer students something more to add to their portfolios, Dustyn said.
“The nice part of working on a mural is that you get to work with kids practically one on one,” Dustyn said. “They realize that not only does it feed their soul, but it’s essentially a job opportunity. There are sign-painting and mural jobs that are out there. A computer will never paint a mural.”
The students are juniors at the nearby high school, and will have an opportunity to work on even more projects in their senior year.
“I feel like I’m actually demonstrating my artist ability to the community,” said Hohn, 17, of Valley Springs. “I really appreciate it when other people like my hard work, and it makes me feel better about my skills.”
“I’ve just always wanted to do murals since I was a kid,” said Cummings, 17, also of Valley Springs. “Now that I’m actually having a chance to do one, I’m having a lot of fun.”
Funds for the project were derived in part from Conifer Communications with a matching grant from the Calaveras Arts Council, totaling $500, which is going toward materials.
“We could not have done that if we hadn’t had the full understanding and cooperation of Zerrall McDaniel,” Mazzaferro said. “And we’re hoping that this will be the first of many, so people need to start watching because you never know where they’re going to pop up all over San Andreas.”
Dustyn said the project is ultimately more than just painting a wall for the students.
“They are filling their souls with a paintbrush,” Dustyn said. “They can’t get that by working on their tablets.”