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Art with a message

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Tom Wilson performs maintenance on The Cow-munity Mural.

HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin

POSTED February 18, 2012 1:42 a.m.

It’s a scene that proves art imitates life – and vice versa.

The delicate flakes are slowly drifting to the ground from trees frosted in white.

In the foreground three kids frolic.

It’s a window into Manteca’s soul.

And it also happens to be one of almost two dozen downtown Manteca murals.

The mural – aptly dubbed “Manteca Snow” – is one of Tom Wilson’s favorites.

It can be found on sycamore tree-lined Manteca Avenue just across from Library Park.

“Manteca Snow” – as Mother Nature in the coming days will soon remind us - is in reference to the thousands upon thousands of acres of almonds that soon will be ablaze with white and pink blossoms.

Wilson’s first encounter with “Manteca Snow” was back in February 1977 when work brought him east of the Altamont Pass.

That was the start of his Manteca love affair.

It was a love that led him along with his wife Gayl to give a true gift to the community.

The couple was the driving force behind an idea that has helped not just give the community a sense of being but has also served as a public display of history, people, values, and culture – the Manteca mural project.

Ten years ago this May, the first mural was dedicated on the side of the Century Furniture Store at Yosemite and Main that has served as Manteca’s heart since the 1870s.

Come this April the mural count will increase by five with the dedication of five murals at Library Park.

“Art is what gives life an extra bonus,” Wilson said Tuesday as he glanced at the “Manteca Snow” mural and the scene it captures framed by a whimsical 20-by-36 foot window

Wilson was inspired to pursue the formation of the Manteca Mural Society while vacationing on Vancouver Island in British Columbia. They had stopped in Chemainus, a town where the lumber industry had been the major economic engine before it decline. One store owner commissioned a mural depicting the dying industry. Another store owner followed suit. Eventually there were more than a dozen murals.

It ended up becoming a big draw promoting the community to revamp their businesses to cater to the tourist trade.

The idea that shared with others in Manteca was sold not simply on the fact it could help boost Manteca’s effort to secure visitors. Instead he made a convincing pitch it was a way to turn otherwise bland walls around town into gigantic canvasses to paint picture stories of Manteca’s history, culture, economy, and people.

And now with the Manteca Mural Society closing in on its goal of 30 murals within 10 years on May 2, the murals have become part of the central district’s identity.

“We get feedback from others that they don’t know if any other community this size (in California) that has produced this many murals in such a short time,” Wilson said.

It is more atypical for communities Manteca’s size to have some type of static public art gallery or center that showcases area artists. In Manteca’s case, the art is too big – and expansive – to fit in a building with the exception of the six murals that hang in the Manteca Senior Center.

The murals have led to other downtown upgrades. The “Sierra Crown” mural on the side of the PG&E building facing the Legion Hall in the 200 block of East Yosemite Avenue is an example. The mural spawned the idea of creating a veterans plaza using large rocks for visual appeal and to double as benches while creating a concrete pattern that gives the illusion of the Merced River flowing out of the mural that is a composition of the Yosemite Valley.

On Maple Avenue, the “Rotary” mural over a small plaza complete with water fountain and benches the city designed to work in tandem with the wall art.

The Library Park expansion was designed from the start to include the five new murals being worked on as part of a mural walk. The desire to tell a story and reflect Manteca’s heritage is picked up in the concrete work of the interactive water play fountain in Library Park that depicts area rivers, agriculture, the railroads, irrigation, and the Yokut Indians.

The society’s goal 10 years ago was to promote public art to enhance Manteca as well as enhance community pride.

Its a goal that Wilson believes the society has met.

“The murals have been pretty well received,” Wilson said.

A solid example is “The Cruise” mural in the 100 block of North Main Street that not only depicts Manteca’s cruise of the 1960s and 1970s but it also depicts a number of residents and their cruise cars. You will see people almost every week drive up to the parking lot the mural overlooks and get out of their vehicles to inspect it closer.

— Dennis Wyatt
managing editor

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