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West Sonoma County's Occidental anticipates a New Mural


West Sonoma County's Occidental anticipates a New Mural

by Steve Fowler 

Sebastopol muralist Dave Gordon, whose recent works enliven the Oddfellows Building in Sebastopol and the Broadway Market in Sonoma, has taken on a new project: a 350 square feet mural in the picturesque village of Occidental. It will be painted on the easternmost wall of the Occidental Center for the Arts where it faces Graton Road and Bohemian Highway. 

The existing mural was painted by Paul Nicholson and Gary Morgan in 1999, after being commissioned by Harmony Elementary School to cover yet another mural painted by Charles Lobdell. This caused controversy because public input was not solicited by the then school staff. Both murals included the school mascot, a dragon. The current mural has deteriorated, and the theme belongs to Harmony School, which re-located to it’s current site in 2004, giving way to an ambitious residential and commercial condominium development designed and built by Orrin Thiessen.

An arts center was included in Thiessen’s plan, and after a nomadic start the Occidental Center for the Arts officially opened it’s doors to the public in 2010, after transforming the former multi-use room of Harmony School. Dave Gordon’s newest mural is part of OCA’s celebration of our fifth anniversary in this special space. Also new is sculptor Bruce Johnson’s  redwood and copper piece entitled “Corbu”, which replaced three other Bruce Johnson pieces now on display at the Wells Fargo Center’s new sculpture garden.

“We knew that we wanted a new mural five years ago”, says OCA Board President Steve Fowler. “But first came a new roof, a heater and dozens of necessary improvements. A mural seemed like a luxury item.” By January of 2014, Fowler  had decided to go ahead with the mural project, hoping to find a design that would stimulate potential donors and re-brand the space as an art center for the community. “I liked Gordon’s (Coyote and the Sonoma Coast) mural on Sebastopol’s Oddfellows wall, and I learned that it was created with broad community participation.That’s how I found Dave, who immediately came out to have a look and offer his services pro bono as a consultant. He said he loved Occidental and frequently hiked around the west county.”

But the problem of raising the estimated $15,000 to complete this mural remained an obstacle, until Dave Gordon mentioned a funding source that had already facilitated his new mural in Sonoma. The Sonoma County Community Development Commission had a “forgivable” loan program for Façade Improvement of commercial structures; and loans up to $18,500 need not be repaid if the “improvement” was properly maintained for up to five years. The O.C.A. applied and was fully funded ! The door had been opened for a new mural for Occidental. 

A “stakeholder committee” was formed, consisting of two OCA Board members, two artists from OCA Gallery, two Harmony Village Homeowners Association members, and two members-at-large from the community. The group publicized a Request for Qualifications for a mural artist, and by February 2015 had received five excellent applications. One of the applicants was Dave Gordon, who was eventually selected .Two well advertised public meetings were carried out in April where public imput could be made on theme ideas that would reflect Occidental Center for the Arts motto: “Building a Home for all the Arts”. 

Sebastopol muralist Dave Gordon's Occidental mural design

The “final” design, which reflected very completely and expertly the many ideas and concerns of the Stakeholder Committee, was presented by  the artist at OCA on June 3, 2015. Now the way is open to begin prepping the wall surface for the mural, which will be largely created in Gordon’s studio on 5 foot rolls of non-woven polyester; which is then carefully adhered to the wall and hand painted and finished on site. Hopefully by summer’s end the new mural at the intersection of Graton Road and Bohemian Highway will be enlivening the town of Occidental, and welcoming visitors to Occidental Center for the Arts : “A Home for all the Arts”. And the Harmony School dragon is still there….look closely!