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Local artists unveil ambitious mural at Police Department

on December 21, 2009

The Richmond Police Department headquarters is now decorated with a big new piece of art.

It’s got the Red Oak Victory Ship, Rosie-the-Riveter-turned National Park Service ranger Betty Soskin, and a sea of faces representing Richmond’s diversity. Large birds fly overhead, dogs sit patiently, and colorful houses are strung throughout. Trains chug forward on railroad tracks running through the west side. And in the middle of it all, a baseball player is ready to swing a bat as hard as he can, hoping for a home run.

Commissioned by the Richmond PD for its new headquarters on Regatta Boulevard, the 9’6” by 3’5” mural was designed and painted by a group of artists from the National Institute of Arts and Disabilities (NIAD). It was unveiled on Thursday at a ceremony with Police Chief Chris Magnus, Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, NIAD staff and the artists themselves. The mural was installed in the reception area outside Magnus’ office.

NIAD teacher Tomoko Murakami had to climb a ladder before unveiling the mural.

NIAD teacher Tomoko Murakami had to climb a ladder before unveiling the mural.

“This represents our history and the current state of the community,” Police Chief Magnus said.

Guided by NIAD instructors Carol Stewart and Tomoko Murakami, the artists conducted research about the city’s history at the library and the Richmond History Museum, where they sifted through archival photos and materials. Betty Soskin also gave the group a tour of the Red Oak Victory Ship, the only cargo ship built at the Kaiser Shipyards restored for the public. The group made sketches of the ship and its surroundings.

Asked to point herself out in the mural, Soskin gestured towards the artists’ rendition of a woman facing forward, wearing glasses and a yellow hat. Soskin joked that the elongated shape coming out of the side of her face on the mural “is not a cigar. It’s my ponytail.”

The artists with NIAD Executive Director Pat Coleman.

The artists with NIAD Executive Director Pat Coleman.

Based on their research, the artists decided what they wanted to include in the piece. Stewart and Murakami curated drawings from each artist’s work and mapped out the mural’s basic composition. This was then projected onto the canvas so that the artists could trace their drawings on a larger scale, before any painting commenced. Working on the mural intermittently between other projects, the piece took 4 months to complete.

Saul Alegria, a NIAD artist who enjoys painting a variety of animals, described the species of birds he created at the top of the mural. “I painted a pelican – it looks very nice,” he said. “I also made a stork.” Other artists shyly pointed out their contributions as well.

The Police Department paid $4,000 for the mural, and is currently renting 18 of NIAD’s paintings for display, according to Pat Coleman, NIAD’s Executive Director. Coleman said that the artists will receive 50% of the selling price. NIAD will apply the remaining funds towards the organization.

Mayor McLaughlin was inspired. “I love being in your workspace,” she said, referring to NIAD’s studios on 23rd Street in Richmond. “Maybe you can do a mural for City Hall.”

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