For the past couple of months, I have been teaching a class on mural painting. I got to work with four great ladies, and we produced a mural in Fremont, California, on a historic property called Shinn Park. It’s 5′ by 4′ on canvas mounted in front of a fireplace that was boarded up and not being used. The project spanned some seven weeks and took an estimated 25 hours.
Since our mural would be in the location of a fireplace, I decided it would be best to not mask that humble location, but to use it. The Victorian Shinn House (as shown in the top-middle tile) was our inspiration. The house’s interior is notable for elements of the Arts and Crafts movement. A few of the rooms have William Morris wallpaper. One of the fireplaces is covered with decorative tiles à la California potteries Batchelder and Claycraft. The mural is not installed in the actual Shinn House, but it is in a 1910 redwood Bungalow on the property. Primarily the bungalow is used as a recreation classroom.
Laying out the mural took some time. We had to think like masons and debated what size of tiles and the width of the grout. The tiles are decorated with highlights from the park, such as a gate from a Japanese garden, an idyllic fountain, a memorial sun dial, and a carriage type piece of farm equipment. The Shinn Park is notable as an arboretum and botanical garden. To pay homage to plants on site: a ginkgo tree, periwinkle, calla lily, rose, camilia, snow drops, nasturtium, olive tree and a most memorable bunyan tree.
The inside of the bungalow is full of warm tones, and so I wanted to keep our mural also warm and earthy. I limited the acrylic paints we used to mainly earth tones: burnt sienna, yellow ochre, burnt umber and unbleached titanium white. We were excited to include the cat. She is based on a friendly Calico cat that frequented the bungalow during some of our classes. I knew this cat from the summer before when I worked often at the bungalow. The kids in the classes I worked at deemed her Smores, but I have also heard her called Ginger. During the mural class she would scatch at the door and even came in a few times. We think she was a stray but word is she has been adopted. I have a tendency to make friends with cats on mural projects.
Painting the mural was a truly collaborative process. Most all of the elements were worked on by different artists at different stages. The ladies took great pride in their work and it was at their suggestion that we also beautified the rest of the fireplace with decorative square frames and a mantle scarf. We were successful at transforming what once was an eyesore into the highlight of the room.