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Artist feels mural design misunderstood

Brittany Retherford

At times, John Pugh said it felt like Nevada County residents were coming at him armed with pitchforks.

“Right now it is a much higher mountain to climb,” he said in a phone interview Thursday, sounding rather beleaguered just two weeks after his proposed mural design for the Del Oro Theatre was published on The Union’s front page.

Pugh has been internationally recognized for his “trompe l’oeil” style and his sketch for the Grass Valley landmark features a three-dimensional mine shaft etched into the building.

He had been looking forward to this mural project, in part because he plans to soon move to Truckee, where he is building a new home.

Since the publication, however, dozens have responded on The Union’s Web site and in letters on its editorial pages. And while some have been encouraging, many others were either confused or just downright nasty.

“If not anything, it has created a definite buzz,” Pugh said.

Based on many of the comments he’s read, however, Pugh said it doesn’t seem people understand what the design is about in the first place. Newspaper print can be a tough medium on which to reproduce a design and Pugh said it came across as too dark, which caused many details to be hidden.

“The concept is not being communicated,” he said. “I have a really good concept here and people haven’t seen it.”

In his 25 years as a mural artist, Pugh said he has never received the kind of backlash from a project like the one he’s received from western Nevada County residents. And while the online response has been a bit frightening, Pugh said most of the personal e-mails he has received have been encouraging.

“On a personal note, the response has been magnificent,” he said. Six local artists have stepped forward to help with the project and Pugh plans on hiring one person to help, using others as volunteers who are interested in learning the unique “trompe l’oeil” style.

He’s also received several suggestions for changes that should be made to the submitted design. He said some have been very helpful, while others “seem belligerent and misinformed” – particularly those who blast him for straying from the gold mining theme that was so central to the previous mural, “The Heart of the Gold Industry.”

Howard Levine, executive director of the Grass Valley Downtown Association, said he also wants people to remember that the final sketch must still go through a public review process – which will be similar to a construction project – and must be approved by a majority vote of the City Council.

Another misconception has been who will actually be paying for the art. Some have chastised the city for spending so much on public art, but the $60,000 project is actually being funded entirely by donations.

Fundraising efforts will be underway “once we have a sketch for the mural … that we would have voted for,” Levine said. Until then, “we are in a holding pattern.”

At least two fundraisers are currently planned. The theater’s owners, Mike and Barbara Getz, raised more than $6,000 during the March 2005 showing of “Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill.” Another $4,000 has been also been raised by individual donations, Levine said.


Artist John Pugh describes his plans for the Del Oro Theatre mural:

“In the area surrounding the upper shaft where the miners are being lowered, side drifts will be depicted. These will show viewers more of the full mining process and the miners past ventures to find gold. The story continues as we drop further and rediscover another mother lode – the great natural beauty of the area. Symbolized by beautiful glass cascades, the ageless Yuba River is presented here in a different context, giving it a fresh perspective.

“Community members whom remain ‘miners for a heart of gold’ will also strike pay dirt as the old heart icon is brought back to life and placed in a major artery of this project’s mine theme. This mural approach is historically flavored and its portrayal is not dark and dismal. In creating an adventurous and pioneering tone it celebrates the history, the community, and the beauty of the area with a gold miner’s charm.”


Meters for Murals to help raise money for project

Visitors to downtown Grass Valley shops will soon be able to show support for the Del Oro Theatre mural project by dropping a few spare coins or bills in special old-fashioned parking meters.

It is “meters for murals,” just one of several fundraising efforts that will take place to raise money for the $60,000 project.

Three meters have been commissioned to local artists who will then transform them into works of public art. They will then be on display on a rotating basis in shops around downtown. The three meters will be on display as soon as all are finished, said Howard Levine of the Grass Valley Downtown Association.

Longtime local resident and metal sculpture, Rock Meade of Mind Over Metal, has already designed the first meter.

“It is challenging when somebody gives you a parking meter and says, ‘make something out of that,'” he said. “There were so many possibilities, but I had to make it simple.”

Meade has had work on display at Gallery II on East Main Street and has lived in Grass Valley for 22 years.

Meade said he was honored to be a part of the fundraising effort for the new mural project, which will be designed by San Jose artist John Pugh.

“Meters for murals” is being organized by the Grass Valley Downtown Association.


Businessmen to hold fundraiser

Grass Valley businessmen Doug Becker, James Poland, and Hank DiPillo team up three to four times a year to host holiday fundraisers for various organizations. For the St. Patrick’s Day celebration, the Del Oro Theatre mural project has been chosen. The event is open to the public.

What: Del Oro Theatre Mural Fundraiser

When: 5:30 p.m. March 16

Where: Farmer’s Insurance and Financial Services, 107 W. Main St.

For more information: Contact fundraiser host and Grass Valley Downtown Association Board Chairman Doug Becker at 274-3214. Poland is a Grass Valley attorney, DiPillo works with Paul Law Realty/GMAC Real Estate.


To contact staff writer Brittany Retherford, e-mail brittanyr@theunion.com or call 477-4247.

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