To me, magic is when an event unfolds in a way that is unexpectedly sublime. My most recent mural project stretches sixty feet along the side of a commercial building in downtown Napa, was, beginning to end, full of magic.
I titled this downtown Napa mural post “Tuesday Morning, 1720” because it focuses on the Mishewal Wappo Tribe of Napa Valley. Here is a list of some magical things that happened while painting this indigenous mural:
• Doubters – A handful of people approached me the first day and incredulously asked, “Are you going to paint this whole wall by yourself?!” Thank you for the set up. Their disbelief is the precursor to surprise and holds the door open for magic to walk through.
• This never happens – The parking enforcement officer who, after being ready to have me towed for exceeding the three hour limit on the first day, stopped by ten days later all smiles, even after my encroachment permit expired, to tell me what a fabulous job I was doing and to take as many days as I needed. No mention of my illegally parked van.
• The Guide appeared – I started out with a half-baked idea of a mural celebrating the original people of Napa. Events unfolded (possibly magical) and I was introduced to Christi Gabaldon. She served as the perfect guide and resource for me in establishing historical accuracy for all the elements in the mural. Thank you, Christi, for sharing your culture with me, for coaching me throughout the project, and helping me to understand the Mishewal Wappo way of life.
Making friends – Meeting Christina, Harry, Gordon, Mario, Francine, Daniel, and Jerry, to name a few really special people I got to meet during my time in Napa. Fellow artists Gene and Jose stopped by daily and I was bolstered by their encouragement. Erin stopped by to admire the art and a few days later I was on her massage table being smudged, anointed with oil, cradled in care, and sent on my way with a bottle of wine from her friend’s local organic winery. Maybe you had to be there, but it was magical.
Michael Holcomb – My client picks up trash as he walks down the street, plants flowers on barren dirt in the downtown, gave a car to a local homeless man (heard about it on the street), and despite strong resistance, commissioned this mural that celebrates community diversity in Napa (read: not the wine industry). Michael is busy making magic in Napa every day.
Déjà Vu – Towards the end of the project, a man came up and used the exact same words to describe the art as I had used to describe my vision for the mural to Michael in our first coffee shop meeting a few months before. This stranger walked up and said, “This mural is so peaceful and expansive, it makes me feel good just looking at it.” It was a “mic-drop” moment for me, except, lacking a microphone, I just dropped my paintbrush and took the rest of the day off.
Kindness – This word was stenciled on the parking spot that faces the mural, part of some guerilla art project. I think it enhances the experience fo the mural. I imagine someone who is looking at the mural, thinking the Native Americans depicted have no idea what is going to happen to them and their way of life in the next hundred years. Then they look down and see the word KINDNESS in the ground. How would California be different today if, instead of decimating populations that had been continuous in the area for 10,000 years, Europeans had shown up with respect and kindness? Or, how can I bring a perspective of kindness towards my Christian European ancestors that were conditioned by their own harsh cultural environment and were acting out their own ignorance? Specifically ethnocentrism, dehumanization of others, control over others through violence, and all those tricky human qualities that might still be present in us in some degree, but are no longer considered socially acceptable. My ancestors were not in California yet, but I am sure they were wreaking havoc somewhere. We can all be kinder on our past, on our present, on ourselves. That the word kindness was stenciled on the ground at all seems like it would invite a bit of magic to that parking space, even if they don’t notice the mural.
Better than cat blooper videos- One precious woman came up to the mural while I was painting and said, “Is this real life? Is this really happening? I need to get out more!” Yes, perhaps you should! I firmly believe that most magic happens in “real life.”
Many people that stopped by commented they would like to go back and live in that beautiful time and place. I’m skeptical. I left out the bug bites, the scratches, the trials of exposure and food procurement, and the deaths in her family by causes that no longer threaten us. That is assuming Grizzly bears are not a problem in your neighborhood. The artwork does, however, wake me up to the thought, “With all the rights, resources and conveniences at my disposal, why can’t I shape a life for myself that is filled with as much simplicity, connection and ease (fill in the blank with the qualities you have pinned on our heroine) as the woman I see in the mural?”
I’d venture we each play primary creative roles in making magic happen. I hope this newsletter inspires you bring your own special brand of magic to the world.
Yours in hocus pocus,
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