The Heritage Museum
Watford City, North Dakota
I was commissioned by Le Roy and Sheryl Lillibridge to paint a landscape mural featuring the badlands of North Dakota for a museum in Watford City, North Dakota. I loved my time in North Dakota. The badlands surprised me- they are not mountains but essentially wide valleys with the eroded rock strata clearly articulated. There were other surprises too. Despite the arrogance I arrived with (I’m from Silicon Valley, the heartbeat of the universe. Where the hell is Watford City?) I quickly learned that Silicon Valley and Watford City have a LOT in common. Let me count the ways….
Watford City is the county seat of the largest oil-producing county in the United States. Texas? Alaska? They have nothing on McKenzie County. The result is a boomtown. The San Francisco bay area has grown an average of 1% a year since 2010. Watford City has grown, 22% per year in the same decade. The abundance of good-paying jobs and the momentum that creates in the lives of individuals parallels the bay area story: paying off debts, getting a new car, buying a house for your growing family- oh wait- never mind, nobody can afford to buy a home in the bay area. However, the sense of “being where the action is”, same-same.
I was in awe of the cloud and rock formations. It is impossible to translate the subtlety of color and light into acrylic paint – but that doesn’t stop me from trying.
Both McKenzie County and San Jose receive an average of 15 inches of rain annually. This year, San Jose has received only 5 inches of rain so far. McKenzie County? Less than a quarter of an inch. This is devastating ranchers in the area who depend on cover crops to feed their cattle. Needless to say, North Dakotans are as worried about ongoing drought as much as we are.
A family of foxes made their home under a sandbox in the park behind the museum. I watched a pair of bald eagles hunt fish in the Missouri River. Both made it into the mural.
3. Political Outrage
I minded my manners and didn’t get in any political discussions during my visit. However, as FOX news is a staple on every TV and car radio, I couldn’t help but listen to the folksy newscasters and was quickly hooked into righteous outrage. I had the insight that all news, left or right, has to compete in the attention economy, alongside Tik Tok, Hulu, and 999 cable channels. Imagine a news channel with the premise “We are all good people on the same team.” Bor-ing. The “hook” of mainstream news channels is outrage. Left or right, this approach has proven to be incredibly successful. I resolved to be more aware of how the news I consume is manipulated – from word choice to data presented- to generate a negative reaction in me. A few days into my trip I switched over to the country music station and my blood pressure went down and my empathy again blossomed.
4. Avocado Toast
A fancy new coffee shop recently opened in Watford City where I discovered oat milk cappuccinos on offer as well as dense multigrain toast smothered in perfectly ripe avocado. The microbrewery trend is also booming in Watford City. It’s interesting to witness how far the tentacles of consumer trends extend, but I have to say biscuits and gravy for breakfast are the bomb. Also, I came to the conclusion that weak black coffee is actually the ideal morning beverage.
I was treated with great hospitality and kindness by my clients. It was an honor to translate through paint the landscape they have lived in and loved their entire lives, and that they wanted to share with their community and visitors to Watford City through a mural. When I asked my client how he found me, and he said he spent many hours last winter on google, browsing portfolios online, looking for just the right artist. Wow. I am still savoring the joy of being “found.”
Sunset in Watford City (10 pm). This is a photo of the museum from my hotel window across the street. You can see the mural through the glass front of the building. (See more mural photos and a few closeups here.)
Mural Artists Workshop
I will be giving a workshop July 14-16 on the art and business of mural painting. We will be painting a landscape-based mural at the St. Francis Center in Redwood City. My class will cover the whole life cycle of a project, including finding clients, creating a site-specific design, and mural execution including technique, materials, and when and how to use a projector. There is still room in the workshop so if you or someone you know is interested, let me know!
Can You See Yourself in California?
Los Altos, California
Check out the bears in downtown Los Altos! My bear is at Veterans Plaza on the corner of State Street and Main Street.
More about my bear: This grizzly bear sports a garland of poppies and redwood sprigs, as well as apricot blossoms representing Los Altos, California. The Santa Cruz mountains featured on the grizzly’s chest provide a breathtaking backdrop to our bustling town and an easy escape into the redwoods. Our community is blessed by the cultural diversity of our immigrants, represented by the different fabric patterns featured in the cape. I asked fellow Los Altans who were first- or second-generation immigrants what their favorite fabric patterns from their native culture were, and the bear’s cape features patterns from Russia, Vietnam, China, Mexico, Korea, India, Japan, and Iran. The fabric designs are overlaid on a traditional serape design and the cape is hemmed with the bright colors of traditional Mayan embroidery. I included elements from indigenous peoples in the dream catcher, including sacred feathers of the red-tailed hawk and the California condor. I hope this bear serves as a reminder that it is the diversity within our community that makes us beautiful.
Enjoy the rest of your week!