With the snip of oversize scissors through a red ribbon across the Napa Valley Vine Trail, visitors were introduced to the newest art installation adorning the county’s prime walking path – a blend of brightly colored lines and metal silhouettes that pays homage to the very people jogging and cycling past it.
Having taken shape since June on 710 feet of fencing behind the Napa city corporation yard, “Begin and Continue” received its dedication Tuesday afternoon as the latest large-scale artwork on the pathway planned to stretch from Calistoga to Vallejo.
What had been a block-long band of plain plastic fence slats had become, under the hands of the Napa artist Mikey Kelly, a wave of diagonal, crisscrossing lines in blue and purple and yellow and green, supporting the aluminum shadow figures of runners, strollers and other trail users.
“Begin and Continue” extends Napa’s effort to beautify Vine Trail sections running through industrial, sometimes gritty areas of the city – a quest Mayor Jill Techel predicted will increase Napans’ pride in their town.
“These are the special things that pull a community together,” she told about two dozen guests during a brief ceremony at the trail’s Jackson Street crossing before cutting the ribbon just after 2 p.m. “It’s great fun to be on the trail or the Wine Train, and see the trail being transformed by this art.”
“This is especially close to my heart,” said Kristina Young, an artist, friend of Kelly and member of the city Public Art Steering Committee that approved the $40,000 Vine Trail installation in June. The placement of “Begin and Continue” in a neighborhood well away from highly traveled, tourist-friendly routes, she added, can help “to generate interest in a section that’s been neglected for a long time.”
“We knew he understands the area better than anyone else, because he works right here, he walks here, and he knew the people he based his silhouettes on,” said Young, pointing to Kelly’s studio across Jackson Street.
Kelly’s creation blends the visual with the abstract, setting its metal silhouettes against a backdrop of colored, sloped lines made from seven colors of fade-resistant paint. The lines’ angles were set by converting five words – “active,” “caring,” “fuerte,” “amor” and “home” – through a coding system known as Lovell’s Cipher to match the letters to numbers from one to 27.
The keywords were the most popular answers given to Kelly’s teenage students at Nimbus Arts in St. Helena to the fill-in-the-blank question “Napa is …”
“I wanted to somehow bring language into the design of abstract painting,” the artist said in June about the cipher, first used for encryption by colonial forces during the American Revolution.
Models for the metal figures were people who encountered Kelly at work on the fence art during the summer – people immortalized through smartphone photos that were digitally converted to digital files, which guided the cutting of aluminum sheets that were powder-coated and painted a woody brown.
Even before Tuesday’s ribbon cutting, the artist said, he already felt the appreciation of Vine Trail regulars.
“People were coming out to take photos of it, even before I was done,” said Kelly of the six-week painting period and the creation of the silhouettes. “They would be see it change every time they went by. Train engineers would wave at me every day.”
“Begin and Continue” joins a nascent outdoor gallery evolving on the Vine Trail north of downtown, a far-from-scenic route marked with wire fencing, warehouses, sheds, concrete blocks and wooden pallets.
Other artworks to have appeared nearby include the moonlight-themed “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” mural at the back of the Napa Valley Register office, as well as the surreal “Floating Houses” mural next door on the NAPA Auto Parts store and the geometric “Chromodynamica” mural behind Matthews Mattress just south.
The paintings are expected to form the seed of the Rail Arts District, a 1.7-mile-long Vine Trail segment where property owners will be encouraged to install or sponsor public art pieces as a draw for runners, cyclists and tourists.