Glen Ellen celebrates two vibrant new murals
Community event featured music, dancing, food, and art
By Tracy Salcedo
The heat was on, but Glen Ellen showed up anyway, to celebrate two new pieces of public art created and inspired by the town and region.
The celebration took place in the parking lot of the newly remodeled building at the corner of Arnold Drive and Carquinez Avenue, known locally as the Sorkin building. The murals grace the north- and south-facing walls, and were commissioned by owners Stephen and Holly Sorkin.
About 75 people gathered on a scorching Saturday morning to meet artist Maria de Los Angeles, enjoy delicious (and free) food prepared by the Garden Court Cafe’s Jazmin Vargas and crew, create butterfly-themed (and other) art at tables in the shade, and enjoy dances performed by Ballet Folklorico Quetzalen and music by the Ben Prentice & Joel Kruzic Jazz Duo.
The Sonoma Valley Museum of Art (SVMA), a nonprofit museum located in the city of Sonoma, was key to organizing the mural project and coordinating the celebration. The museum’s mission is to build community around art, and the Glen Ellen murals exemplify that effort. In creating the work, SVMA’s executive director Linda Keaton told those gathered that de Los Angeles reached out to people throughout the Sonoma Valley, including folks from the Sonoma Ecology Center, the Sonoma Developmental Center, the Glen Ellen Forum, La Luz, the Glen Ellen Historical Society, and the California Indian Museum and Cultural Center, as well as individuals from Indigenous, Chinese and Japanese communities.
The “picture language” that informs the murals contains “diverse voices,” Keaton said.
First District Supervisor Susan Gorin also spoke at the event, thanking both the museum and the Sorkins for bringing an “incredible gift” to Glen Ellen, “one of the hearts of Sonoma Valley.”
Gorin noted she has known de Los Angeles since the artist was a child growing up and attending school in Santa Rosa. When Gorin saw the “vibrant” work de Los Angeles was creating in those years, the supervisor knew the artist was up and coming — “and now she has arrived.”
Gorin also reflected on the “long journey” Glen Ellen and other Sonoma communities have endured recovering from the 2017 wildfires. Public works of art like these, she said, “can heal, and bring us together.”
Steven Sorkin, who sponsored the mural project, confirmed in a side conversation that they were first conceived during the planning process for the renovation as an innovative way to break up what Permit Sonoma was concerned would be big, blank walls. Where windows would have been required, Sorkin commissioned art.
“These murals provide an opportunity for the community to celebrate those who have built Glen Ellen and explore the complex history of Sonoma Valley,” Sorkin said in a press release announcing the celebration.
In addition to the Sorkins, when she addressed those assembled de Los Angeles thanked all those who helped her with the project, including her husband, Ryan Bonilla, and Sarah Zbinden of Glen Ellen, who spearheaded the mural installation. Zbinden has more than 25 years’ experience installing murals, both interior and exterior, and noted it was a pleasure to work with de Los Angeles and her “magical mind.”
“I feel blessed to have had the opportunity,” de Los Angeles said, adding that while the murals might appear to be done, “the end product is the community that is built by the conversations that brought [the work] forth.”
Reaction to the murals at the celebration was almost uniformly positive. People clustered around the pieces, which puzzle together imagery from the natural world with social issues, some Glen Ellen-specific and others speaking to Sonoma County as a whole, and even farther afield. In an interview prior to the celebration, de Los Angeles explained she conceived the works to be viewed from several distances, far away and close up, where they can serve as “entryways” to deeper conversation. She’s accomplished both goals, at least for one local viewer.
The art “makes me happy when I drive by,” said Glen Ellen’s Jane Witkowski, reflecting on the vibrant colors and larger images. But things change when she gets close up, she said; then, the pieces “make me think.”