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Chris Smith: College Confectionista turns to public art project to celebrate diversity

The public beautification project conceived by Healdsburg native Anamaria Morales replaces a previously splotchy, old wooden fence at a city park wearing a fresh and vivid rainbow palette.|

It turns out the timing is fortuitous for the completion of a very long and long-delayed piece of art in Healdsburg, one that celebrates color and at a divisive time has brought people together.

The public beautification project conceived by Healdsburg native Anamaria Morales has a previously splotchy, old wooden fence at a city park wearing a fresh and vivid rainbow palette.

“I can’t imagine anyone walking past there without smiling,” says Morales, who’s 22 and eager to see her community energize its conversation on race and equal treatment.

The entrepreneurial and engaged young woman is happy for people to see whatever they see in the bright hues that she and a band of helpers applied board-by-board to the fence along a pedestrian path linking Poppy Hill Drive to Gibbs Park.

Morales herself sees something along the lines of the glory and dignity of every hue on the human spectrum.

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AT FIRST, she was simply sick to death of looking at “this big, long, kind of creepy fence,” as she and her mom, Laura, walked their two Corgis and a German shepherd to the neighborhood park dedicated in 1974 to Healdsburg educator and community service dynamo Byron C. Gibbs.

The pathway fence was scarred by patches of paint that covered up graffiti. Here’s a little background on the college student who resolved to make that fence something beautiful and, she hopes, unifying.

The daughter of a white mother and a Latino dad, Morales was studying at Healdsburg Junior High when she resolved to go out of town for high school. As an adolescent she had a group of white friends and a group of Hispanic friends, and she deplored the force field of racial and class tension that separated them.

“It was difficult to chose between the two parts of me,” she said. “It was so stressful to me, so I chose a school where I knew absolutely nobody.”

Morales did extremely well at El Molino High in Forestville. She graduated in 2016 and went on to Santa Rosa Junior College. Aspiring to attend UC Berkeley and knowing she’d have to come up with money for tuition, she began making and selling cheesecakes.

Today she prepares for her second year at Cal while continuing her culinary acumen as the College Confectionista.

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BACK TO THE FENCE: In 2019, Morales set out to gain city approval and community support for her vision to transform the eyesore of a Gibbs Park fence. It proved to be a time-consuming process further delayed by the onset of the global epidemic.

Then came the May 25 killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis, and the outrage and protests it ignited. Morales joined in a demonstration in Healdsburg.

Her father, Tomas Morales, who’s 41 and works for county Transportation and Public Works, spoke with my PD colleague Phil Barber in June about growing up in Dry Creek Valley with his parents, both immigrants from Mexico. “Every time we went into town,” the elder Morales said, “from the local barbershop to the grocery store, people made comments because my parents didn’t speak English well.”

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WHEN AT LAST in late June Anamaria Morales had all the approvals and volunteers and supplies she needed to paint the fence, she found new meaning and urgency in her original concept: the Rainbow Trail.

She thought of George Floyd and the calls for just treatment and equal opportunity when she finished the mural of bright colors with, at both ends, several boards painted the light-to-dark Earth tones of human skin.

“It’s really been an amazing transformation,” she said, speaking of the fence. She visualizes the same for the culture.

You can reach Staff Writer Chris Smith at 707-521-5211 and chris.smith@pressdemocrat.com.

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