The newest version of the Napa Art Walk received its coming-out party on Tuesday during a walking tour to show off the fruits of sculptors’ creative energy – and remember two recently departed men who helped make the downtown gallery possible.

Napa’s Parks and Recreation department dedicated the sixth edition of the Art Walk, a collection of outdoor sculptures that will remain on display through mid-2021, to the local developer Harry Price, an advocate of public art who died in February at 77.

And a highlight of Napa’s newest exhibit was a creation by Eino Romppanen, a Finnish-American sculptor who worked in stone, bronze and other materials for more than half a century before his death in May 2018.

Before an audience that included members of Price’s family, Napa leaders credited Price with inspiring the outpouring of outdoor artworks in the downtown area over the past decade, both through organized exhibits and as permanent installations. 

The Art Walk debuted in 2010 and has since introduced Napa visitors and locals to a rotating group of sculptures, showcased in two-year cycles that culminate in a People’s Choice award for viewers’ favorite art installation. Elsewhere in Napa, a city ordinance requires developers of large-scale projects to devote 1 percent of their budget to on-site art, or contribute the same amount into a public art fund for projects elsewhere.

“We all owe him a debt as citizens of Napa and friends of his, but the public art amendment and the Art Walk, those truly belong to Harry,” Napa artist and art educator Kristina Young said during a pre-tour reception outside City Hall before leading a toast to Price’s memory.

One of the eight newly displayed sculptures on the tour was a posthumous contribution to the Art Walk – Eino Romppanen’s “Celestial,” a slim pyramid of Brazilian blue quartzite holding up a stainless steel ring, which in turn is capped by a quartzite cap with perforations large and small.

As the group of about 20 spectators clustered around “Celestial” at First and Randolph streets, Romppanen’s wife of 21 years recalled the often cosmic inspirations for his work.

“Eino was always a thinker,” said Karla Ely, a glass artist who lives in Pahrump, Nevada, where the couple worked. “You’d find him sitting in his chair. You’d ask him ‘What are you doing?’ and he’d say in his thick accent, ‘I’m thinking!’ He really enjoyed philosophy that was much larger than himself; he was interested in how everything was connected, how nature is connected, how people are connected.”

“All Eino wanted was to share his art with the world,” she said, growing visibly emotional. “He didn’t care about the money – he was the epitome of the starving artist. For people to enjoy his work … I know he’s here enjoying this. I’m just happy that I can carry on what he wanted to do.”

After tour members crossed over to the opposite side of Randolph, Danette Landry of Napa pointed them to her own contribution to the Art Walk. Rising from a pedestal was “Reconstruite,” a slim and seemingly precarious square column of thin bronze bars – some bars connecting to one another and others not, some evenly spaced and others not.

This unevenness, this lack of symmetry was part of Landry’s design – of a totem she said represents the strength and persistence of women amid the scars of misfortune.

“There are trials and tribulations all humans go through in life,” she explained before the tour. “We try to hide our flaws – but she’s standing strong … tall and strong, but she still has flaws.”

A third Art Walk entry adorns the seat of city government. And, unlike other pieces, was crafted directly in tribute to the Napa Valley.

Appearing as a curvaceous hourglass silhouette from a distance, Jann Nunn’s “!” is, on closer examination, assembled from 1,200 rods of powder-coated stainless steel welded into a wispy whole. Nunn, an artist based in Oakland, likened the form to sticks thrown into the air and frozen mid-motion – but also the swirling of red wine being poured into a glass, the signature image of the sculpture’s home territory for the next two years.

“A lot of people are tired of the bad news we’re experiencing – there’s a slump in our psyche now,” she said. “I wanted to make something that’s a joyful experience.”

Tuesday’s walking tour led guests from one end of Napa’s open-air gallery to the other, from Nunn’s “!” east to Brian Hutsebout ‘s“Transcendent” at First and McKinstry streets in the Oxbow neighborhood.

One artwork, however, remains absent from the Art Walk for the time being: Eileen Fitz-Faulkner’s “Release,” a likeness of a woman releasing a bird, which the Orinda artist has said represents the spread of universal truths.

The sculpture was unveiled in June on Main Street near Napa Creek, but was later vandalized, according to city officials. After repairs, “Release” is scheduled for re-installation in mid-September, with a speech by Fitz-Faulkner to follow shortly afterward.

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City of Napa/Town of Yountville Reporter

Howard Yune covers the city of Napa and the town of Yountville. He has been a reporter and photographer for the Register since 2011, and previously wrote for the Marysville Appeal-Democrat, Anaheim Bulletin and Coos Bay (Oregon) World.