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Jeff Ackerman: Del Oro mural just starting to take shape

John Pugh hasn’t been around long enough to know how things work in Nevada County. So forgive him if he sounds a little sensitive to the critics who have already determined that his proposed mural for the side of the historic Del Oro Theater in Grass Valley … well … blows.

Never mind that Pugh has yet to finalize his concept and that a picture of a rough draft we published on page one last week really failed to capture the essence of his very preliminary concept.

Pugh, whose stunning work can be seen on his Web site (artofjohnpugh.com), was recently contracted (for an estimated $60k) to paint a mural on the side of the famed theater that belongs to Barbara and Mike Getz. A committee spent several months looking for an artist who could do justice to the mural that will be seen by anyone driving past. The view from the highway – where motorists play a daily game of Russian Roulette as they try to negotiate “The Weave” at the exit and onramp to downtown Grass Valley – is particularly good. Although the last thing they may need is a distraction.



Thanks to the Internet, readers had a quick chance to comment on Pugh’s proposal and, true to Nevada County form, they jumped feet first.

“I think what would suit Grass Valley best would be a mural of a Wolf Creek Mud Clam,” wrote one art critic. “Slightly opened to signify the unwavering warm welcome this city extends to weary foreigners, their families, their cultures and their businesses. The Del Oro Mud Clam could also symbolize our open-minded and spicy development intelligence.”




Another online reader suggested the proposed mural wouldn’t sit well with the “old timers,” mostly because the “old timers” won’t be able to tell what it is.

“Have we gotten to the politically correct conclusion that the mines were the bowels of the earth and home of Satan?” a self-named “Galvanized Cousin Jack” wrote. “Perhaps the mural with its ‘hole in the wall’ would be more appropriate in South Central Utah, where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid hid out in the hole in the wall.”

Others couldn’t quite figure out what it was.

“I’ve got to stress the fact that the image (used in the story) was dark to begin with,” Pugh told me Friday afternoon from his studio in the Santa Cruz Mountains. “So far, it’s just one artist submitting a concept, or idea, and it probably didn’t get depicted very well.”

To ease any “Cousin Jack” concerns, Pugh said his mural would have a mining theme.

“I’ve always been fascinated with the mining industry,” he said. “What really caught my eye was a brochure that I saw depicting a vertical elevator cart going down into a mine. As soon as I saw that I was intrigued. I’m just scratching the surface now. I need to understand it (mining) and somehow experience it.”

His initial sketch is what he called a “cross-section” of a mine. “If you could slice down and see life inside the shaft. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

While there is no timetable yet for the mural, Pugh said he’s looking forward to the project and, in fact, will be building a home in Truckee while his Del Oro mural is underway.

As someone who is accustomed to criticism (I have actually grown to relish it with my morning coffee), I tried to explain to Pugh that it won’t matter what he paints on the side of the Del Oro. Half the town will love it and the other half will want to nail him to a wagon and lash the horses.

“This is a community of strong opinion,” I told him by phone. “In fact, it’s kind of a hole in the wall, where opinionated people flee after getting run out of their previous hometowns for having too strong an opinion. And … to top it off … they are never wrong.”

“That’s odd,” the artist said. “Tell me more.”

“Take mining, for example,” I said. “You indicated that the theme for the mural ought to recognize our rich mining history, which is where our Gold Country moniker originates. Well … there are lots of newcomers here who would just as soon forget about the mining history. In fact, I suspect you may have to do a full-blown Environmental Impact Report for the mural, if you’re planning to include a mine shaft.”

I received an e-mail from Pugh over the weekend. It seems he didn’t get much sleep fretting about the initial reaction to his proposal. He wanted to assure our opinionated citizens that his intentions are pure.

“I’m aware that much research is still required for developing the finished concept here,” he wrote. “Some future plans include meeting knowledgeable miners and exploring local mines, hiking along the Yuba River and talking with historians and children. The mural has not been designed. It is being designed. My sincerest goal is to create a unique and handsome landmark that reflects the spirit of Grass Valley.”

I wanted to suggest a mural of two people holding their ears, but thought better of it.

If you take a few minutes to check out some of Pugh’s work, you’ll quickly see how fortunate we are to have this opportunity. He is truly amazing.

At the same time, Barbara and Mike Getz deserve much praise for their willingness to donate the side of their building for the enjoyment of our community, even if that enjoyment is occasionally interrupted by a screech.

Jeff Ackerman is the publisher of The Union. His column appears every Tuesday.


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