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Meet Albert Einstein, an inspiring presence on the Napa River Trail
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Meet Albert Einstein, an inspiring presence on the Napa River Trail

He celebrates the Warriors basketball team. He spouts quotes from Herman Melville and Helen Keller. He even wears hats, sunglasses and other gear for different seasons.

“He” is a terra cotta statue nicknamed Albert Einstein – and he’s developed a small but devoted following among the Lincoln Avenue River Trail users.

Albert was christened by his “owner,” Napan Hilary Zunin.

“He’s an avatar, in a way,” said Zunin, “But he has a way of interacting with people on the trail that is sweet.”

This retired Napa teacher and Napa Valley CanDo co-founder, lives in the River Glen townhomes complex adjacent to the River Trail. Zunin’s back deck overlooks the trail.

A bunch of years ago Zunin bought him at a pottery shop on Highway 29 in American Canyon. She and her husband Leonard placed him on her back deck, within prime view of the trail and its many daily pedestrians.

Child-sized, Albert sits casually, holding his knees. He has a mustache and wears a pair of sandals.

Zunin said she dubbed him Albert Einstein because “He’s gazing out at the river and contemplating the mysteries of life” — sort of how she imagines Einstein himself would.

At first, Einstein was just an ordinary garden figure. But then, Zunin, a Warriors fan, began dressing him up to celebrate the Golden State team. She dressed him in a Warriors hat and sometimes a Warriors towel along with other team accessories.

Then she began to add clever messages on a framed board.

When people began to notice, Zunin realized Einstein was the perfect conversation starter or icebreaker. “He somehow gave people permission to say, ‘Good morning’ or ‘Who’s your friend?’”

Then the coronavirus pandemic hit and suddenly “the path felt different,” said Zunin.

It was quieter, but also, “it felt more anxious” out there, she said.

“And I so I started putting up signs,” for example, that encouraged people to be good to one another, or thoughtful quotes and sentiments.

Some recent examples include: “We cannot do all things, but we all can do small things” and “Spread the word, not the virus! Today the word is Kindness.”

A colleague and her young son Gabriel knew of the statue, so soon Albert’s sign included a special message just for the little boy, which completely thrilled him, said Zunin.

She updates the message a few times a week.

“It takes so little for people to be uplifted,” said Zunin. “If this triggers something (and) makes a stranger think about it, great.”

Recently Albert has been wearing a face mask, just like most of the rest of Napa.

How does Zunin decide what Albert is going to say next?

“Sometimes it’s something someone says to me that triggers a thought,” she said. “It might be something I read.”

For practicality reasons, “It’s got to be short.” The sign board only has so much real estate, after all.

“I love it when I find words that feel just right,” she said.

Sometimes Zunin thinks Albert’s sign project might come to an end, but then somebody on the path will ask about her statue and his messages.

“I feel a little community responsibility to keep the conversation going,” said Zunin.

Editor’s note: Because of the health implications of the COVID-19 virus, this article is being made available free to subscribers and non-subscribers alike. If you’d like to join us in supporting the mission of local journalism, please visit napavalleyregister.com/members/join/

You can reach reporter Jennifer Huffman at 256-2218 or jhuffman@napanews.com

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Business Editor

Jennifer Huffman is the business editor and a general assignment reporter for the Napa Valley Register. I cover a wide variety of topics for the newspaper. I've been with the Register since 2005.

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