Photo: Artist Lauren Sinnott works on the mural “Ukiah Valley: Past, Present and Future” on West Church Street in Ukiah on Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020. (Beth Schlanker / The Press Democrat)
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Her block-long historical narrative mural, “The Ukiah Valley: Past, Present and Future,” features 26 vertical panels depicting the Mendocino County region. Sinnott hopes to complete the final few panels by next summer, but knows better than to make predictions.
She’s been stalled along the way by smoky air from wildfires; shelter-in-place orders due to the unprecedented coronavirus pandemic; and cold, windy weather that numbs her fingers.
The triple-digit heat common to Ukiah, though, doesn’t faze her. “It’s a north wall so it’s perfect,” said Sinnott, 61. “You just wear big, blousy garments and you’re fine.”
Plus, she said, there’s always someone stopping by with water and refreshments. For an artist accustomed to working alone, engaging with the public is an added bonus. People share their stories, make suggestions, bring old photos and artifacts, pose for portraits and treat Sinnott like a neighbor, even bringing her fresh produce from their gardens.
Although she’d detailed a sketch before applying a single brush stroke, community input helps shape the chronological panels that follow themed “chapters” like “immigration,” “agriculture” and “excellence.”
“I’m not the only expert on Mendocino County,” she said. “It’s a thousand times better now than just with the sketch.”
Along with her artistic talents, Sinnott is a storyteller and historian. The mural begins with a “nature” scene long before humans lived in North America, with images of black bears, gray wolves, mountain lions, elk and blacktail deer. From there, she depicts the native Yuki, Pomo and related tribes as they gather food and, in later panels, endure as settlers disrupt their lives. Ultimately, “service,” “remembrance” and the double-paneled “our future together” will complete the mural.