Written by Vincent Neal – Artist
The Inyo 150 Mural is located in Lone Pine on NAPA auto parts owned by Dave Mull. The mural’s official title is “The Social History of Inyo County” and depicts the 150 years from when Inyo county was first established in 1866 thru 2016. The 76 by 16 foot wall is about two thirds complete at this time.
I started the Inyo 150 mural in 2016 after proposing that I create a mural about Inyo county at a courthouse meeting. At the time I had no idea what I would do but I was mostly interested because it would give me a chance to learn all about the history of Inyo County. I quickly learned that the real challenge was I needed to create a single image that portrays the history all over Inyo covering a span of 150 years! YIKES!
Before I got too deep into the challenge I had to know how big my canvas was going to be. At the time I don’t think I was well known as an Artist even though I had been painting around town and having shows for a couple of years. I had recently painted the “Social Media Mural” on Bonanza Mexican Restaurant. One of my favorite art shows was “The Art of the Flyer” where I printed pictures of my paintings and photography on flyers and posted them all over town. I also had flyers with pull tabs explaining that there is a free art show going on in the town of Lone Pine. The pull tabs just said “look for it”. I might have been more known than I realize. With that I began to ask different business if I could paint their wall.
All I had was an idea, no sketch and nothing to show. Napa auto parts was the second place I went into to pitch my idea. I saw that Dave Mull had donated to a mural I helped work on on the bank next to his building so I figured there’s a good chance he’s familiar with my work. He was but still looked at me skeptically as I made my pitch. “Sounds great” he said “who’s paying for it?”. I knew the question was coming and I was going to sound crazy but I said “I will be”. Dave didn’t just give me permission he gave me freedom. He said he trusted that I would do a good job and didn’t require me to make a mock up of how the mural would look before actually painting it. I’m still grateful for this as I still haven’t finished working it out. It’s really an organic work in progress. Dave did have one stipulation that I include engine 18 a narrow gauge train engine he helped restore, the Slim Princess, and is now at the Eastern California Museum in Independence. I whole heartedly agreed. I hired a contractor to resurface the 76 by 16 foot wall and began figuring out how to compose my mural.
As an Artist I also enjoy diving into the history of art and I remembered how Artist Thomas Hart Benton beautifully depicted “The Social History of Indiana”. After researching Benton’s mural I decided my mural would be composed in a similar way. The upper part of the mural is a series of landscapes all on the same horizon line, giving the illusion of taking a long drive rather that having a collage feel to it. I decided the story of Inyo would be told in 8 chapters. Each chapter would be a main plot line with subplots sprinkled in. The chapters would have a visual separation of some kind not only to separate each chapter but to also make each one have it’s own mini composition within the larger scheme.
Mining is what brought people from the east and those people eventually established the county of Inyo. The first chapter is “The Miners” and the smoke of engine 18 divides it from chapter two “The Pioneers”. After the pioneers I use the Owens River and Winneduma not only to divide chapter two from three “The Paiute / Shoeshone” but as segway that begins the water story. Chapter three and four “The Ranchers” share the same landscape showing both the Eastern Sierra and the Inyo/ Whites mountain ranges. These two chapters have a division below the landscape where the water story continues. Having the one large landscape here I thought would show all the people in the Owens Valley living together in the valley. From the ranching chapter Father Crowley, “The Desert Padre”, stands larger than life looking over the whole water situation he was instrumental in mediating. Holding the water agreement in hand he separates the ranchers from chapter five “The Movie Makers”.
This is where I’m at currently. I still have work to do in this chapter but the division here is a pole with the Anchor Ranch wooden sculpture of their brand hanging from it. Anchor Ranch was where the movie makers went for props and movie scenes. From here I’ll be painting the last three chapters: “Manzanar”, “The Tourist”, and “Inyo County Today”.
I can practically hear the “wait a minute!” “You started in 2016!”. That’s right I’ve been working on this for 8 years so far and a few more to go. There’s two mural seasons in a year: Spring and Fall where I take a couple weeks off from being a Lineman, working on steel towers and hanging from helicopters to paint my mural. During mural season the weather is just right for painting but sometimes the weather still shuts me down for a day here and there. There was a time when I thought I might recruit art college students to help me move this along but I ended up deciding against it after having a few seasons under my belt. I really enjoy the process and all that comes with the experience of painting in public.
There’s people I only see during mural season. They come chat me up for a bit and let me get back to it. I’m often asked what I will do when I finish because the first part will be really faded by the time I’m done. I just explain how murals are perishable and I plan on taking all my pictures of the mural and patching them together to make a poster where it all looks like fresh paint and use it to tell my monumental story of Man vs. Wall. I think I’ve met nearly every artist in the Owens Valley at one time or another while painting. I’ve had lots of people from out of town passing thru stop and ask about the mural. I’ve even had people from other countries come by and tell me they follow me on social media and were glad we met in person.
It’s great to be appreciated but my real motivation is just the experience of making art. Exercising the creative process is all that really matters to me. When i’m painting I imagine the sounds I would hear like horse hooves trotting, Paiutes chanting, the train whistle blowing and when I’m painting a person I imagine how they’re feeling or how hard they’re concentrating. I see little pictures in the highlights and shadows of the things I paint that help me to paint each thing accurately. I enjoy calculating in my head how to get an exact color I want by mixing what I have. I enjoy painting in small details only the vigilant observer may find. Most of all I enjoy feeling connected in some special way to all the groups of people in the county. I know for most people murals are like wallpaper but for mural enthusiast there’s another gem just around the corner.