Sacramento River Trail Bridge Murals…
Bicyclists, scooterers and serious strollers just discovered new colors on the Sacramento River Trail. For those who cross the ribbon bridge just downstream of the Keswick Dam, it’s hard to miss. On approach, trail-goers are treated to a blast of flowery hues brightening formerly plain gray concrete walls. On the bridge itself, things tone down to a palette of sedate earth and water tones. Folks who stop and look can take in the four parts of the mural that depict wildlife in and around the river.
Regulars on the trail may have been lucky enough to see the muralists at work. Rebecca and Matt Wallace painted long days, from cooler pre-dawn hours to torrid mid-Redding-afternoon, for a full month. During this time, the artistic couple report, riders and walkers stopped by daily to compliment them on the design, their colors or their work in general or while riding by, simply calling out,”Boy, you guys do a good job!”
Their finished mural is actually a dozen separate paintings, a composition dictated by the structure of the Stress Ribbon Pedestrian Bridge. Four concrete abutments set at path level anchor both ends of the bridge and lead traffic onto and off of it. Directly beneath each of these is another concrete panel of the same size, lending architectural support as well as providing more concrete canvas for that part of the mural’s story. The vivid painting on these eight external walls depict the annual life cycle of the California poppy.
The artists’ descriptions of the details drops the jaw. “There’s spring, summer, winter and fall. There’s also the equinox of the sun,” says Rebecca. “So each panel has a sun, and the position of the sun changes with each season. It’s very subtle. And that’s outlined by basket patterns from the Wintu tribe.”
This Wallace Murals and Designs project is the result of a proposal issued by the City of Redding last spring. For a while now, the city’s director of community services, Kim Niemer, has received phone calls from the public complaining about how those bare, gray, concrete walls were too ugly for such a beautiful setting. “Even my own friends were telling me how terrible they look,” Niemer says. “It’s hard to argue. I’m out there myself.”
Matt says it took some effort —facing peril — to paint arcs suggesting curvature of baskets. Pointing to the pair of panels depicting spring, he explains how he crafted a big template. “In order to get the shapes here to line up with the top half, I had to bend a piece of wood from top to bottom to get a nice arch,” he describes. “And there were a lot of complications with the terrain. It slopes two different directions, so we couldn’t just run regular old scaffolding. I had to come up with some inventive ways of doing it that were safe.”
And for a while, no funds were available to do anything about this. But in late 2020, a family’s tragedy offered a solution. George Emmerson and the surviving members of the family gave the city a $1 million gift to fund a public art installation in the memory of Emmerson’s wife Susan, who passed unexpectedly that June. The centerpiece is a sculpture planned just downstream of the ribbon bridge, but $25,000 was earmarked for beautifying those bare concrete abutments.
Today, Niemer’s phone calls sound different. “People love it,” she reports. “The colors, the imagery — it fits right into the landscape. Technically, it was much harder than anticipated. To work at that scale and difficulty of that setting, and to pull it all together that beautifully — I’m super impressed. It was the hottest part of summer, and they were practically melting out there, but they kept going.”
The Fort Bragg muralists say they have plenty of work ahead of them. Rebecca designs and directs the painting of their murals. Matt says he’s just a helper. She’s been an artist as long as she can remember. He found his calling in his school’s wood shop. She taught art at Butte College for five years. He worked on a fishing ship in Alaska. Fourteen years ago, after a close friendship since their teens, Matt suggested they get serious.
Their last project, for a private client, was a mural of late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Their next job is a mural for Cafe Beaujolais in Mendocino. Those impressed by Wallace Murals and Designs’ brilliant work on the bridge might enjoy visiting their website, where years of artworks are on display to delight and perhaps spark a commission. •
Wallace Murals & Designs • (530) 588-1943