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Murals and artworks have begun appearing on Napa’s section of a valley-wide walking trail, but an upcoming piece will be the first to pay tribute to the trail walkers themselves.

The city’s Public Art Steering Committee approved the Napa-based artist Mikey Kelly’s installation “Begin and Continue,” which will set the metal silhouettes of men, women, children and pets on 710 feet of fencing at the city corporation yard along the Napa Valley Vine Trail south of Lincoln Avenue.

Photos of joggers, cyclists and others using the Vine Trail will be converted into computer image files, which will guide the cutting of silhouettes from quarter-inch-thick aluminum sheets. The resulting shadow figures will be powder-coated and clear-coated to resist graffiti, then mounted with metal brackets to the back of the fence.

If the silhouettes are a visible homage to Napans, the graphic pattern behind those figures will be a hidden homage to Napa itself – an unusual mix of uplifting words and codemaking, according to Kelly.

The backdrop to the images of trail walkers will be an pattern of composed of intersecting lines and waves, made from fade-resistant paint in seven colors. The degree of angles and curves in the lines will be determined by running five words – “active,” “caring,” “fuerte,” “amor” and “home” – through a coding system known as a Lovell cipher that matches each letter to a number between 1 and 27.

Teenage students in the Napa County Court & Community Schools, students in an art program Kelly teaches at Nimbus Arts in St. Helena, helped choose the words, as did visitors at an Arts in April event at the Oxbow Bypass, he said.

The resulting numbers will help to set the degree that painted lines slant from vertical in various parts of the artwork, according to Kelly. For example, if the first two letters of a word correspond to the numbers 22 and 5, one line will be painted at a 22-degree angle and another at a 27-degree slant.

“I was looking for a way to convert language to numbers, and the Lovell cipher is a convenient way of doing that,” he said of the code, based on an encryption system used by the American colonies during the Revolutionary War. “I wanted to somehow bring language into the design of abstract painting.”

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Kelly’s use of the entire span of the Vine Trail backdrop set his design apart from the other candidates, according to John Hannaford, a Napa musician and member of the public art committee.

“From the beginning, we wanted the artwork to take the entire 710 feet of fence and turn it into an artwork that would use the whole space, instead of just being many little spaces brought together,” he said. “It’s a combination of sculpture and painting, with elements of both. I like how he incorporates all the materials into the design of the work.”

The $40,000 project, which the City Council green-lighted in March, would join a handful of large-scale paintings that have been completed in recent months as part of the new Rail Arts District to beautify an urbanized and sometimes-gritty stretch of the bicycle and pedestrian pathway.

Painting work is expected to start July 1 and last two weeks, followed by the cutting and installation of aluminum-plate shadow figures, Kelly said.

Among the arrivals are “Knocking on Heaven’s Door,” a nighttime scene on the back of the Napa Valley Register office, as well as the geometric “Chromodynamica” behind Matthews Mattress and the surrealist “Floating Houses” on the NAPA Auto Parts building.


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.