For Herbert Martinez, his interest in sculpture and ultimately teaching art stems quite naturally from the mentoring he got from his father, a career auto mechanic.
“Sculpture goes beyond just clay,” he said. “I realized that the metal fabrication and carpentry that my dad had taught me when I was a kid could be applied to something meaningful and artistic.”
Martinez applied that insight, and what he has learned as a student at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, to his work with seven fellow students on art installations at Andy’s Unity Park in Santa Rosa’s Moorland Avenue neighborhood, which officially opened in June.
With his classmates and their teacher, Peter Schifrin, who maintains an art studio at his home on Sonoma Mountain, Martinez participated in the design and installation of a bronze-relief likeness of Andy’s face surrounded by a tile mosaic showcasing his interests.
All of the students on Schifrin’s team submitted designs for that mosaic, and ultimately the one they used was by Caroline Ford of Berkeley.
The 4.4-acre park memorializes 13-year-old Andy Lopez, who was fatally shot in 2013 on Moorland Avenue by a Sonoma County sheriff’s deputy. Lopez was walking along the then-vacant lot, carrying an airsoft BB gun made to resemble an AK-47.
“I remember hearing about it and being shocked,” Martinez said. “I was in high school in Redding at the time. The idea that a child, not much younger than me, would be shot was the first time I’d seen something jarring like that in the news. I remember thinking he was my little sister’s age.”
Martinez has taken a leadership role in the park project’s next phase, the installation of tile mosaics, incorporating designs from students from Santa Rosa’s Elsie Allen High School, on benches at the “Jam Circle” near the park’s skateboard ramp.
When he graduates from the Academy of Art University in the spring, Martinez, 24, will be the first in his family to finish college. He grew up in Redding and moved to Rohnert Park in December to be with his fiancée.
“I want to be a self-sustaining craftsman. I want to be a metal fabricator and have my own shop, making art and designing things people can use,” Martinez said. “I want to eventually be a teacher. I’ll be getting my master’s degree.”
Martinez said the Andy’s Unity Park project has profoundly influenced his plans for the future, inspiring him to do more community art projects.
“Before this project, it wasn’t something that I even really thought about, but after seeing the effect that our work has had on a community of people, being that spark of hope and joy, I want to do more,” he said. “Being here on the opening day, and seeing the people smile and laugh and dance, and the food they brought, it was amazing. Everything about it was amazing. That’s definitely something that I want to be a part of again.”
The park was created in the wake of a tragedy, but Martinez sees the project as a symbol of hope.
“As long as Andy is remembered, his spirit lives on. That is what we believe in the Hispanic community,” the young artist said. “This park really is going to improve the lives of people around here. Growing up, I was underprivileged and I lived in a rough neighborhood. We didn’t have parks. We didn’t have a place where we could feel that we were together.”
In this special edition during Hispanic Heritage Month, we honor the rich and nuanced heritage nurtured by all the generations in our Latino community and the value it brings to the lifestyle of Sonoma County. Click here to read our other Latino Life stories.