Birds, Flowers and Karma: Dreams Do Come True

By Morgan Bricca July 30, 2017

“We believe that art has the capacity to create and reinvent life in unimaginable ways.” – Choki.org

I just wrapped up my dream job. I painted fifteen nature themed murals in about as many days on a lush, tiny Portuguese island in the middle of the Atlantic called Ilha das Flores, The Island of Flowers.

I have been carrying a lingering euphoria around with me for months, ever since my clients, Casey and Andrea, sent me the first e-mail with their idea and photos of the Island of Flores. For me, the whole project unfolded with a “meant to be” quality, including alignment of purpose, subject of the artwork, and the perfect challenge for me as an artist.

Goldfinch, Municipal Tourism Development Office

Goldfinch, Municipal Tourism Development Office

I loved working with Casey Hartnett and Andrea Pinto, the couple with the vision and the gumption to put the mural project together. Casey, an American, has MBA, CFA and CFP credentials and had a lucrative career in finance when he had the epiphany that he wasn’t happy with his narrow, workaholic life. His pursuit of happiness led him in a new direction which included leaving his job, travel (including multiple trips to Bhutan), and maximizing his time in nature, including surfing and scuba diving. Andrea, who is from Venezuela and has equally impressive credentials as Casey, could probably be happy anywhere. She reminds me of a real life Disney princess, and seemed to be followed by a trail of butterflies, puppies and shooting stars. Together they make a powerful team. They set out on a new path that included founding Choki, a non-profit with the mission to protect the culture and traditions of some of the most sacred places left in the world. Their pursuit of happiness also resulted in a move to what Casey describes as “The most beautiful place in the world”, Flores. (It’s prounounced flourish; I love that.) Their home is mostly garden, and includes a twenty foot waterfall, 180 degree ocean views, eight chickens, four dogs and a goat named Karma.

Snipe mural at the airport

Snipe mural at the airport

Andrea and Casey belong in a special category of “high action” island dwellers.They are both doctoral candidates; Andrea is studying environmental economics and Casey studies sustainable economic models. They also run the most popular café in town. And remember, they’ve got the farm to run. They don’t think happiness comes from sitting in a cave alone but by participating in the community and using their skills to make the world a more beautiful place. They love Flores. They are not native to the island but they want to see it thrive in the long term.

They asked themselves, “What kind of projects could they start that would boost community pride and the local economy?”

Tentilhao mural at the municipal courthouse

Tentilhao mural at the municipal courthouse

Despite the wealth of ocean rights they provide to Portugal, the Azores is one of the poorest regions in Europe. There are rumblings of revitalizing the local economy of Flores through a traditional tourism model. The island is small, 55 square miles and about 2000 inhabitants; half live in the main town of Santa Cruz. A tour bus would overtake both lanes of the narrow roads and a single large hotel would overshadow the whole tiny downtown. Casey and Andrea would like to see a more holistic approach of development through ecotourism, attracting nature lovers like stargazers, birdwatchers and outdoor adventurers who want to both enjoy and preserve the natural beauty of the island. They are developing a volunteer tourism program, where skilled individuals develop their own passion projects on the island. This is where my project fits in.

Orchadia Caffè

Orchadia Caffè

I took on the Flores project pro-bono because the project was perfectly aligned with why I make art, and because it provided the opportunity to make the impact that I believe public art could have on a community. The population of Flores has been in decline for several generations, with the young people finding better education and jobs on the mainland. I spoke to several residents who offered excuses as to why they live on the island, as if they were marooned on Flores and not living there by choice. Remember, according to at least two residents, this is the most beautiful place on the planet. Why would some of the locals feel they are “stuck on the island?” Casey and Andrea noticed this and felt that an art project that celebrated the unique beauty of the island would help locals experience their home as something to be proud of, not as a forgotten outpost.

Melro mural at the post office building

Melro mural at the post office building

Why Birds and Flowers?

Images of nature pull us out of the everyday busyness of our domestic lives and invite us to slow down. They transcend tribe or personal identity and help us appreciate a broader perspective of life and the place we live. In the case of the Flores murals, the artwork served to educate visitors on what they might see during their stay, as well as celebrating the most beloved bird and flower species for residents. The murals painted in town add a dynamic and feminine element to the simple and sturdy traditional Portuguese architecture. For tourism, the artwork creates a visual story that sets it apart from other places and makes it look cared for.

Cagallo mural at the airport

Cagallo mural at the airport

Flores is the westernmost point of Europe, (also the only island in the Azores on the American continental shelf) and has been a key stopping point for seafaring ships including pirates, explorers and traders since the Phoenicians. Because of it’s unique history, I included both endemic species as well as species that come from other parts of the world but have become emblematic of Flores, like the hydrangeas that line the hedges.

Wagtail mural at the airport control tower

Wagtail mural at the airport control tower

I don’t know if I would work for Casey and Andrea again. They kept interrupting my workflow to take me swimming with the dolphins, snorkeling, and canyoning, among other distractions. In the name of research, of course, I went along. ”Island time” took on new meaning as I would sometimes start my workday at 5 or 6 pm, painting until twilight, which was around 10 pm. I was reminded during my excursions that being in intact ecosystems does create moments of awe, connection, and oneness. There is a word for it: eutierra. In our cozy supply chain of commodity economics, I forget that every breath, every meal, every endeavor is supported by nature, and earths bounty. I felt so alive when I was there. Casey and Andrea tell me that that is a typical response to the island.

mural image

Hold on. I can’t resist. More vacation photos.

mural image

In a fantasy world, I can drop in with my cape and magic paintbrush and transform a community through public art in three weeks. Reality moves a little slower. It will take years for the project to weave itself into the fabric of local life, and for the slow ripples on tourism to take effect. I am already planning another trip to the island next summer to further support and develop the project, whether it is painting birdhouses with the local school children, adding a few more murals to the collection, or just doing some field research. (Does that sound like an excuse for another vacation on Ilha das Flores?)

Ilha das Flores landscape mural at the main plaza

Ilha das Flores landscape mural at the main plaza

How did two foreigners, after only one year on the island, manage to pull together a massive mural project to revitalize island pride, including getting approval on 15 large walls in prime locations? How did they gain approvals all the way from Lisbon to paint on these government buildings? That is an amazing story that I will chronicle in next months newsletter, along with an image of my favorite mural I have ever painted.

Thanks for being a part of the adventure!

mural image

 

Morgan Bricca

Morgan Bricca

Morgan Bricca is a mural artist living and working in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her clients run the gamut from professional creatives, including architects and designers to building owners, school administrators and community advocates. When she is not making art, Morgan enjoys sipping boba tea with her kids and taking naps on the couch.

WHAT CLIENTS ARE SAYING

Our entire staff enthusiastically appreciates the artistic transformation of our clinic. The kids here for medical services LOVE the murals as well. One of our young patients returned from emergency psychiatric services for a self-harm issue and when she came into our office she had a huge smile upon seeing the mural. It is amazing to all of us how immediately a depressed patient responded to the mural art.

It has been a pleasure to work with you. We love both your work and the positive environment and spirit you have instilled in our kids.  Once again Morgan, thank you so very much from the bottom of my heart.

Warm regards,

Chia-Chen Lee
Juvenile Hall Medical Clinic Pediatrics

Review for Juvenile Hall Mural Project by Chia-Chen Lee

Morgan blew it out of the water.  As a general contractor, I would say my decision to hire Morgan for this mural is one of the best decisions I have made in terms of impact of my work.  Every kid will remember this mural as long as he or she shall live. Watching a child see the mural for the first time is an experience words can’t describe. It’s mesmerizing to them. Adults too, for that matter. It’s a show stopper.  So much better than I could have ever imagined.

I would go out of my very busy way to recommend Ms. Morgan Bricca on every possible level, with no hesitation. Please feel free to call me if you are considering hiring Morgan but can’t quite take the leap. I will be glad to push you in.

Chris Carver
Aquatic Management Group
Raleigh, North Carolina

Mural artist review by Chris Carver

Morgan offers a unique collaborative approach with her clients. On our project, she struck the perfect balance; she listened to our ideas and feedback but very much maintained her role as the creative expert, making us feel comfortable the entire time.

I would absolutely recommend Morgan with no hesitation. With all that she has done, she is going to find the right approach for just about any client.

Jonathan Meyer
VP, Marketing and Community Relations
San Mateo Credit Union

Mural painter review by Jonathan Meyer

We absolutely love our mural! I anticipated that it would add beauty and a much-needed “nature element” onto our campus, I never could have imagined what a huge impact this would have on our school. I have seen countless children, parents, and teachers walk by in awe, totally captivated. Not only does it make our campus a brighter, more beautiful place to learn and play, it reminds our entire community of the tremendous importance of art. This is a gift beyond measure, especially in tech-obsessed silicon valley. Once again, you have exceeded my (already high) expectations!

You are so fun, inspiring and professional to work with and your projects in our kinder yard and now this mural have been my most satisfying collaborations on PTA.

Warmly,

Christy Flahavan
PTA President
Springer Elementary School

Mural Artist Review for Springer Elementary School by Christy Flahavan

The real value and pleasure of working with Morgan was that we connected with her. She was very personable, very sincere, very collaborative, but not one to sit back and let us lead it in a wrong direction. We trusted her completely from the past work she had done for us, and told her, “here is a wall, do something with it – surprise us.” It’s like dealing with a friend.

The murals she has created for us make our home more intimate, warm, and personal. I was surprised at how quickly she worked, how easily it got done, and how watching the process was enlightening. It just flowed; it was like watching a very large masterpiece being created before our very eyes. It was especially interesting when she got into the tonality and the tints. For us, it turned out better than we could have expected. I absolutely recommend her without a doubt.

Mural Painter Review by Sandy Bland

Morgan, the mural you created for our building has been a major attraction for both locals and visitors in Downtown Napa. The transformation of an eye sore, to a work of art, has been nothing short of amazing. I feel a little guilty receiving so many compliments for your work, however that doesn’t stop me from stealing part of your credit. Your attention to detail and sensitivity, bringing the Wappo tribe into the process, unified Napa’s residents with its history. This public recognition of the Wappo Indians is long overdue, reminding us all of a different time in the Napa Valley when nature and people could live harmoniously.

Every day, as I watch children and adults transported to an earlier time in the Napa Valley, I appreciate your ability to be the vehicle for their journey. I hope soon you will return to sprinkle some more fairy dust on another wall, so I can watch your magic talented creations at work.

Thank You,
Michael L Holcomb

Mural Artist Review by Michael L Holcomb

Hi Morgan,

We had an end of the school year party at our house and everyone raved about your mural. I see your name and date, 2012, on it and can’t believe it was 4 years ago.

Just wanted you to know it brings me joy every day.

Warmest,
Josh Weinstock

Mural Artist Review by Josh Weinstock

I have worked with Morgan on five mural projects at our house over the past six years. I love her work and she is a pleasure to work with. Once you see how transformed your space is by the first mural, it is easy to start seeing other rooms that could benefit from a “Morgan”.

Susan Wojicki
CEO, YouTube

Mural Painter Review by Susan Wojicki

Morgan’s work is exquisite. She loves what she does, works extremely fast, and is a true pleasure to work with.

David DaPonte
Architect, HKS

Mural Painter Review by David DaPonte

Without fail, anytime someone comes to our house who hasn’t seen the painting, they comment on it and how much they like it.

Adam King
Director, Intel Corporation

 

Mural Painter Review by Adam King