Someone has slain the Santa Rosa dragon, again.
A 700-foot tile mosaic of the mythical beast that adorns the Highway 101 underpass along the Prince Memorial Greenway was vandalized Sunday night.
This time, the perpetrator smashed the dragon's face, leaving a jumble of ceramic debris strewn about the pedestrian and bike path that lines Santa Rosa Creek.
"This is one person who does not like dragons or murals or me," said Mario Uribe, the lead artist of "Tile Dragon Mural."
The city commissioned Artstart, the Santa Rosa art education nonprofit, to create the mural three years ago. The dragon was originally painted on the overpass wall in red and blue.
But the painting was tagged almost daily with graffiti, said Tara Matheny-Schuster, the city's arts coordinator. Art officials thought vandals were spray painting the mural because of its perceived gang colors. So they changed the dragon's colors to muted orange and olive green and installed the artwork in hand-painted tiles, which are easier to clean if spray painted.
Tiling over the mural did not stop the vandalism, though. The dragon's eyes have been gouged out at least four times in the past year, and this time the entire face was shattered.
"It's been an ongoing problem," Matheny-Schuster said. "This is the most damage we have seen so far. We're kind of at a loss."
The $12,000 mural was purchased with money from a public art fund set up from developers' fees. It has cost $3,000 to repair the damage, Matheny-Schuster said.
A tile next to the dragon's face that lists the artists who contributed to the project was also damaged, but only Uribe's name was scratched out, leading to speculation that the vandal has a grudge against the artist.
"Police questioned anyone who had an agenda or a vendetta against me or Artstart," Uribe said. "I'm not sure who it is. Maybe they don't like dragons."
This is not the only Prince Memorial Greenway installation that has been damaged. Vandals also broke the bottom portion of Uribe's "Fish Mosaic Sculpture," a colorfully tiled fish that guards the entrance to the popular creekside trail.
"It's really frustrating," Uribe said. "We don't take vandalism lightly."
Jagged chunks of ceramic tile littered the pathway Monday afternoon. Bikers zipping along under the overpass had to slow and swerve to avoid the pieces. Pedestrians on lunchtime walks shook their heads upon noticing the damaged mural.
Bob Stiles, a member of the Santa Rosa Cycling Club, said he rides along the path daily.
"We live in a society with a lot of angry people," he said, pausing to survey the destruction Monday. "Sometimes people vent their anger in a lot of unhealthy ways. It's unfortunate."
Dawna Rego, who works for Exchange Bank, stopped on her afternoon walk to look at the mural.
"I've seen this get defaced a few times," she said. "It's sad. I've never understood vandalism."