They wear kilts or short pants and sport red pointy hats and white bushy beards. Some are paired with mushrooms. Others stand alone. They are gnomes and they appear to be stealthily invading Napa.
An artist with a seeming affinity for the woodland creatures has created miniature portraits of gnomes and installed them at street corners around Napa. The painted figures are affixed to telephone poles or trees, mainly in the southern part of the city.
The number of gnomes remains unknown, but more than a dozen have been spotted on or around Imola and Jefferson streets. Each unique image is painted on a small wooden block. On one block a gnome smokes a pipe. Another stands next to a mushroom portrait. One has what appears to be a tattoo on his arm. One wears a shirt with a heart on it. A gnome next to St. John’s Catholic School wears a skirt not unlike the school’s plaid uniform.
The guerrilla art aspect of the artwork has certain similarities to another public artist, Jimmy Dimarcellis of Napa. Dimarcellis is the “heartist” who installed dozens of small red hearts on telephone poles around Napa.
“I think it’s great,” Dimarcellis said of the gnome art. However, “that’s not me,” he said. He wondered if the work was from an Oakland artist who had sprinkled that city with very similar looking gnome portraits.
The Oakland gnome painter has never been publicly named. Efforts to identify him, or her, were unsuccessful.
Jason King, a spokesman for Pacific Gas & Electric, said he was not aware that gnome art had been spotted on utility poles in Napa. In a Jan. 26 San Francisco Chronicle story, King said that the Oakland gnomes would be removed from utility poles. Later, PG&E reversed course and said the gnomes could stay.
When asked if PG&E planned to leave the Napa gnomes alone, King said, “We do not intend to take systematic action to remove the gnomes unless it is determined that any of the individual installations pose a danger to the public, a safety risk to our workers, or potential damage to the dedicated public utility poles that they are installed on.”
Paul Slack, founder of the Slack Collective, a new artist collaborative located in downtown Napa, said he wasn’t aware of the gnome art either. He couldn’t say if any of the Slack Collective artists were creating and installing gnome portraits around town.
Arts Council Napa Valley CEO Olivia Everett didn’t know of any gnome painters. The non-profit is an arts advocate, but “street art is a complicated matter,” she said.
“We don’t want to condone illegal activities but we support the artistic impetus and sharing creative work with the community,” Everett said.
“It’s hard to say for this specific work what the intention was,” but “I think generally people doing public exhibitions want to create a conversation,” she said.
Part of being a street artist is anonymity, she noted. “In this case, I think it definitely adds to the story if people are curious about who it is or what it could be.”
Personally, “It sounds fascinating. I would love to check them out,” she said.
Dimarcellis said he supports the spirit of the gnomist.
“I just love that someone is doing it,” he said. “If it gets your attention, that’s good.”