Livermore is beginning to become known for its public art installations throughout the city, particularly the large murals scattered around the city center on various building walls. One of the city’s newest displays is not only meant to visually grab attention, but also sends a message to the “Dream Big” community.
The concept for the mural – which features portraits of astronauts with local ties – was created by Alan Burnham, who is a Livermore resident, founder of the Quest Science Center and current contractor at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory with MH Chew & Associates.
Burnham owns the building located downtown near Railroad Avenue and North K Street, which now houses the mural. He had purchased it for potential use by Quest Science Center and other non-profit organizations.
When he bought it, one of the building’s walls had “a nasty stain” and graffiti, according to Burnham, which sparked his interest in sprucing it up with artwork.
“The inspiration was a combination of having worked a bit with one of the (astronauts) at LLNL and my work on the Apollo 11 landing exhibit in the hall of the Bankhead,” Burnham told The Weekly. in an interview. “Wall design has evolved over time, including during painting.”
The final version of the mural depicts astronauts Jeff Wisoff, currently Senior Associate Director of LLNL’s NIF & Photon Science Branch; Tammy Jernigan, former Senior Advisor to the Laboratory Director’s Office of Defense Coordination; José Hernández, son of Mexican migrant farm workers and former LLNL engineer for 15 years; Leroy Chiao, former LLNL research engineer; and Ellen Ochoa, a former Sandia National Laboratories researcher and former director of the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.
The five of them are depicted in the mural wearing orange or blue space suits and are surrounded by a galaxy filled with constellations, planets, a space shuttle, the International Space Station, a rocket and of the pole star. The words “Dream Big” in large blue print are inscribed above their heads.
The months-long process of taking the mural from idea to reality was no small feat.
With the help of Larry Lagin – a retired scientist and project manager who is also a renowned visual artist – Burnham assembled a team of local artists to bring his vision for the mural to fruition.
In addition to Lagin, the group of artists included Anne Giancola, Thomasin Dewhurst and Matt Finders, who is also a musician and manager of youth jazz band Element 116 but has an interest in the visual arts. “My expertise was mostly in climbing ladders and laying down base layers,” Finders joked of his limited background in visual arts.
“I happen to be the biggest collector in the world of Larry’s paintings, so I asked him if he needed any help with that,” Finders said. “I was mostly on the ladders and on the roof and doing things that weren’t as polished, but in the scheme of things, someone had to do it.”
Lagin added, however, that the Finders’ contributions were an integral part of the project.
“Thank goodness there were four of us,” said Giancola, who oversees the Bothwell Arts Center and is head of visual arts and education for Livermore Valley Arts.
While murals are usually found in his wheelhouse as an artist, Giancola explained that this one being so large with so many different elements made it a job for more than one person.
“Most of my murals are more interior, residential and commercial, so this one was a bit large,” she laughed.
The finished mural is actually more than a little big – it’s 77 feet wide and 17 feet tall.
All the artists, including Burnham, knew each other and connected in different ways and for other projects over the years, but Lagin said it was the first time they all got together and “shaped our expertise. together”.
“I found it to be very collaborative and we were like, ‘Does that really look like a nose? Is the nostril too far to the right? ‘” Lagin said of the experience of working with the other artists.
Giancola noted that Dewhurst was instrumental in bringing faces to life with precision, as painting portraits is one of his areas of expertise. “She was really great about putting all the finishing touches on the faces to make them really real, believable and recognizable like the astronauts’,” Giancola said of Dewhurst.
The process of creating the mural began in March at the Bothwell Arts Center, where artists projected each astronaut’s face and torso image onto mimeographed paper on the wall.
“I don’t know how many weeks it took us. It was very laborious but it was a labor of love,” Lagin said of the tedious process. After completing the sketches of the portraits, they moved on to placing them on the wall, followed by the painting process.
The artists agreed that in addition to the visual appeal of the mural, an important aspect they wanted to bring out was meaning.
“We felt really confident that we were sending a good message to the young people of Livermore,” Giancola said. “We really wanted it to say ‘Dream Big’ – whatever you want to do. It’s five astronauts associated with Livermore, but you can really do anything we want young people to dream big,” he said. she adds.
The mural was completed in mid-summer, but the groundbreaking ceremony was held last month at 175 North K St.