Teens Express Essence of Lamorinda in Lafayette’s First Public Mural

Mimi Bommarito, Photographer
Orinda architect Lara Dutto (back row, 2nd from left) and her talented team of young artists created the mural Our Home, recently unveiled at the corner of Mt. Diablo Blvd and Moraga Road in Lafayette. Several young artists who also worked on the project are not pictured here.
Mural Artists
Youth Collaborators: Brendan Bogen, Mia Dille, Mya Dunne, Genet Dutto, Makena Lai, Julia Little, Carsten Ristow, Evie Smith, Joe Smith, Maddie Stein, Mia Taylor, Reese Whipple and Maddie Venturini
Adult Collaborators: Angela Ristow, Martin Segobia and Rigo Gonzales

    If a picture is truly worth a thousand words, then a mural must be worth an entire dictionary – especially if it depicts the essence of a hometown and was conceived and designed by visionaries who actually live there.
    Such is the case of the recently unveiled mural in Lafayette that was brought to life by Lara Dutto and a team of about 13 Lamorinda youth artists.
    Dutto, Orinda architect, wife and mother of three, and creative “imagineer,” spearheaded this multi-faceted project, exuberantly fulfilling the aspects of the creative process: sourcing the materials and funding (courtesy of Village Associates Real Estate), seeking the proper channels of approval, and recruiting busy teens who could spare a few hours away from their chemistry homework, among a litany of other duties.
    The whimsical painted mural measures approximately 7½ feet wide and 11 feet tall. Originally pieces of exterior-grade plywood panels, the colorful artwork neatly fills an entire back wall of a recessed niche that once housed ATM machines at the former Wells Fargo Bank turned pop-up art gallery. The mural faces out onto a small parklike space and the parking lot of Sideboard and Joe & the Juice. Lafayette’s intersection of Mt. Diablo Blvd. and Moraga Road will never be the same.
    “We want to activate this corner,” said Dutto, “and ignite curiosity.”
    Viewers are encouraged to park their bikes or cars, and approach the mural up-close for an opportunity to study and absorb the many tales and truths whispered in acrylic.
     Although highly original and possessing a dreamlike sense of spontaneity, the mural was not created hastily. Much thought and planning went into its conception.
    “This mural was planned with community input,” Dutto says. She tasked her artists to visually answer the question “What does it really mean to grow up in Lamorinda?”
    “We held workshops long before we picked up paint brushes. These creative collaborators engaged in historical research and written storytelling,” she says. “We sketched and conducted interviews.”
    Dutto reached out to Elizabeth Perlman, founder and CEO of the popular local writing-based empowerment group, The Intuitive Writing Project, for young creatives who were also inspired by the written word, as the goal of the mural, in addition to inspiring a sense of place and connectedness, was to visually tell a story.
     Miramonte High School junior Reese Whipple, 16, one of the participants, wowed the audience at the mural’s unveiling on Oct. 5 with her observations of the creative process.
     “How do you grab a torch, a map and a backpack and take a journey inside your own head to find that glowing crystal, that diamond in the rough?” the teen asked. “How to be creative is something that is hard to teach because no matter how many art tutors, college camps or drawing classes you take, it will never feel like enough. To find the great relic of creativity is something we cannot teach. You must guide yourself to find it. ‘Teachers’ can only give you a starting point.”
    Whipple said that in the first weeks of working on Lamorinda’s first community mural, finding original, creative inspiration was challenging, both personally and for her fellow artisans.
    “I told this group from the beginning that I would not draw this mural for them,” Dutto says.   
    Whipple says her personal method for igniting her creative flare involved envisioning Lamorinda as a textbook, then asking herself what would be the takeaway if she were quizzed on that book the next day at school.  
    “On the first pages you will find only the surface, what we can physically see; the theaters, the reservoir, the golden hills. Okay, this is good,” Whipple observed, “but it is not deep.”
    “Flip a few more pages and perhaps you would get to the people and what they do; how they act and what they look like. But this is still not that deep. What you must find in order to be creative are the bottom layers; the page 108. Seek out not just the objects but the feelings, the beautiful mystery of it all – how does Lamorinda make you feel? What secrets does it hide?”
    “Past everything on the surface, you’ll find a million hidden, diverse communities waiting to be discovered, subcultures of all kinds that you never even knew existed in your own backyard,” says Whipple.
    “There are secrets and stories contained in this mural; like what is the meaning of the big, green eye, or the bats, or the rainbow BART tracks, or the nest?” Dutto says. “There are many hidden gems you will want to return to for a second, or a third look.”

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