A large, piñata-like chicken sculpture installed in front of a Sonoma Valley meat market has rekindled the controversy over the highly colorful makeover of building facades north of Sonoma along busy Highway 12.
El Brinquito Market in Fetters Springs is known for its barbecue chicken and also has piñatas for sale, so why not combine both elements with a 9-foot tall, metal, multihued hen, perched on a framework of steel high above the sidewalk?
That was the thinking of artist Rico Martin, who is putting the finishing touches on a piece of art that might be described as whimsical and wonderful, or gaudy and gauche, depending on one’s point of view.
When the big chicken appeared about two weeks ago, it provoked a spate of comments on social media. Some called it “horrendous,” “creepy” and “puke-colored.”
But others said they loved seeing all the colors and expression coming into town. One woman wrote on Facebook that it reflects “that we are living in a diverse community.”
The reaction is similar to the reviews Martin has received since he began splashing vivid colors on several drab buildings last year in the melting pot of communities that make up Agua Caliente, Fetters Springs, Boyes Springs and El Verano.
The eye-popping colors, which some credit with helping spark a business revival, also created a cultural backlash of sorts against what some view as a garish designs and motifs derived from Mexico and other Latino countries. But defenders say some of the attacks smack of racism.
Teresita Fernandez, owner La Michoacana ice cream parlor, one the first businesses to be repainted, said some of the initial criticism came from a small group of detractors, including a few who said “go back to Mexico. They have those colors back in Mexico.”
Martin said he heard similar attacks. “Some were outright racist,” he said, recalling what he said he experienced. “ ‘We don’t want you.’ Or, basically, ‘Go home if you want these kinds of colors.’ ”
The controversy has symbolized the struggle of a community seeking at once to revitalize itself with ongoing upgrades to its streets and businesses while also finding a new identity in the face of demographic change. Once a historic destination resort on the edge of Sonoma, The Springs, as it’s now known, lost some of its luster over the decades, but endured as an affordable area for low-income residents and an increasing Latino population, now accounting for about half of the community’s roughly 15,000 inhabitants.
The Springs Community Alliance, a group of business owners and residents of the area, has stayed neutral on the subject.
“Some people feel strongly that it takes away the character of The Springs neighborhood and some feel just the opposite,” said Rich Lee, chairman of the alliance. “I think it’s fairly divided between people who think it’s great and people who can’t stand to look at it.”
Lee said the corridor’s new colors have brought attention and focus to The Springs in a good way, spurring attendance at the alliance’s monthly meetings. “It’s caused more conversation,” he said with people asking “what do we want (The Springs) to be and look like.”
The ruckus over the brightly painted businesses, which erupted last year with the makeover of a consignment shop and ice cream store, has even worked its way into the race for county supervisor, with 1st District incumbent Susan Gorin defending the taxpayer-supported facade improvement program and challenger Gina Cuclis criticizing how it was handled.