To draw attention to homelessness in Sonoma County and the need for more housing, local artists this week installed a mural visible from Highway 101 on the back wall of the Palms Inn, a 104-unit motel for homeless veterans and the chronically homeless.
The 208-square-foot mural at the Santa Rosa Avenue property just south of Santa Rosa was created by artist Mario Uribe after meeting with residents at the facility.
He used pictures of the residents to create composites of smiling people. With the help of his assistant, Daniel Doughty, Petaluma artist Jennifer Mygatt Tatum and apprentices from the nonprofit Artstart, they painted those composites onto wood panels, which they put together like a puzzle in the shape of a house. At residents’ request, he also included emblems of the five military branches.
Uribe said there was no better place for the mural than facing the busy highway. Not only did it enhance the space, he said, it also reminds people about the plight of the homeless.
“Tens of thousands of people may see it. It brings awareness of the homeless problem,” he said. “The more people who are aware of it, they may do something about it.”
Uribe oversees Artstart, and has created numerous murals throughout the county, including one memorializing the shooting death of 13-year-old Andy Lopez that drew some protest for depicting a smiling female Sonoma County Sheriff’s deputy kneeling next to a small girl holding a paintbrush. Uribe replaced the panel that had reportedly offended the Lopez family.
Akash Kalia, who owns the motel, said the mural on the back of his building honors the Palms Inn and its residents, some of whom contributed to the project.
“That’s exactly what the Palms is — it’s everyone’s home,” said Kalia, who watched as the artists completed the mural Wednesday.
“We should do another one of these,” Kalia called out to Uribe, whom he reached out to earlier this year, hoping to bring murals and other works to an area he described as an “art desert.”
Uribe quickly jumped on the idea, securing an $8,000 grant for the project.
Marshall Smyth, 62, who has lived at the Palms for more than a year, helped paint the mural.
“It was a paint-by-the-numbers,” he said, adding that the tough work was left to the “real artists.”
Still, he felt a sense of accomplishment.
“I wish more people would have gotten involved,” he said. “It was enjoyable doing it. There was no pressure … and they gave us sandwiches.”
Jay Collins recognized his beard in one of the panels, although the image had someone else’s eyes and nose. His 6-year-old cinnamon Chihuahua, Layla, took up an entire panel placed in the center of the house.
“It looks good,” he said, admiring the painting. “It makes me a proud pappy.”
Collins said he’s never contributed to an art project like this before. Amazed to see how the mural came together, he said he looked forward to doing it again in the future.
“It’s different, that’s for sure,” he said. “It makes you proud a little bit, especially when you were part of it.”