When I look at the “Muir Woods” mural I can almost hear the splash of water on rock. I imagine the fresh scent of redwood trees deeply rooted in rich earth. I hear the rustle of plant and nature’s life. For many years during my drive to work, I enjoyed an almost daily dose of this soothing mural. I was an art therapist to developmentally challenged adolescents at the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Hospital. One hot summer day inspiration from the mural must have followed me to work. I taped a roll of paper 7 feet high, about 5 feet wide, up on the wall of the hospital art room and got out paints and various thickness of brushes, from housepainters widths to the more delicate Japanese sumi-e brushes. The art project theme: trees, rocks and water. A small group of four young patients took turns painting easy strokes of blue and green and brown, orange, yellow. I remember that what started out as a tense combination of emotion, from anxiety to depression, began to dissipate significantly. And so these children paid homage to nature and were rewarded for the effort.
The noted artist and muralist Jane Golden created “Muir Woods” in 1978. I can’t begin to conceive the number of that creative and inspirational mural’s sightings by motorists, students and passersby where some positive thought, feeling or action resulted. There might have been some quiet reflection or a moment of release from the worries of the day. The location of the mural on perpendicular walls could not be better; the busy city aspect of the soon-to-be revitalized Lincoln Boulevard on one side and on the other side a recently-greened Ocean Park Boulevard view that reaches to and from the ocean. A progression to and from city to shore. Together, the mural walls, staunched by their paintings of strong ancient trees in their natural setting, really do provide people of all ages a visual sense of calm, security and protection.
This magnificent, spiritually imbued Santa Monica mural has been serving our community for the past 36 years and, despite fading and peeling, still emanates a force that conveys the pro-environment, pro-tree and pro-nature message it set out to communicate. For that, and many other reasons, it truly deserves to be restored. It is an important part of our heritage. It reflects who we are as a people, concerned now in 2014, with the environment and the preciousness of nature. What better reminder than these wise trees that know how to grow and to live such long and productive lives. Absorbing CO2 and providing beauty. A continual lesson painted on walls, adding the aspect of an environmental consciousness for all of us to draw from, expand upon.
A great hands-on project for the students at that site might be to assist with the mural restoration as well as help plant a living landscape along the strip of earth in the long planter that fronts the entire mural. I’m sure John Muir would wholeheartedly approve. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the passing of the renowned preservationist, naturalist and founder of the Sierra Club. The “Muir Woods” mural is an artistic inspiration, but also a teaching and learning educational opportunity.