Olympic-Era Mural Returns to the 101 in Miniature
By Ed Fuentes
A reproduction of John Wehrle's "Galileo, Jupiter, Apollo" was unveiled on Tuesday, returned to its home on the northern wall of the 101 between Broadway and Spring Street. The work is the kickoff to Caltrans' Mural Preservation Demonstration Project, funded by grants from Wells Fargo. Scale was the casualty of this preservation.
The banner, coated with a graffiti-resistant material, measures 9 1/2 feet tall and 75 feet wide and weighs in at 60 pounds. The original 1984 Olympic-era mural once measured 207 feet long and up to 24 1/2 feet high. Aggressive tagging costs the state millions annually, and emptied coffers prevent continued restoration.
The demonstration project is designed to experiment with new solutions while maintaining California’s broader freeway aesthetics and reducing lane closures, said Patrick Chandler, a Caltrans spokesman. “It doesn’t cost the taxpayer, while maintenance costs are kept to a minimum.” Taggers are known to purposely mark murals, since the tag will stay up longer while the decision is made whether to clean or preserve the piece.
In the last two years, Caltrans resolved the endless vandalism to the murals of the 101 slot by painting them over. Lost were Frank Romeo's "Going to the Olympics," Glenna Boltuch Avila's "L.A. Freeway Kids," and Willie Herron's "Luchas del Mundo,” all of which had gone through restorations since 2000. “Jupiter, Galileo, and Apollo” was the last Olympic-era mural in the group to be left standing. Restored in 2005 and again in 2007, talks for a third restoration began two years ago, according to the artist.
However, Wehrle’s mural was not only marred at ground level, but by high powered paint guns. “The difficulty was the [large sprayed] paint,” the artist said of the tag that extended toward the top of the piece. “It was a BBQ grill paint, deep setting stuff.” Caltrans approached Wehrle with the idea of a mobile mural that would allow the piece to be seen in different locations. “At first I was kind of cool to the idea; I am old school,” said Wehrle.
After mulling it over, he decided to agree. “It was an opportunity to have the piece survive from this point onward, so I said ‘yes.’” Wehrle provided a photograph for the reproduction of the mural, but seemed surprised when told that it is now mounted where the original mural once stood. “It was my understanding was they were to use the digital print for special occasions,” he said. “I didn’t realize they were going to put it on the wall.”
As for Wehrle, he is busy keeping a flow of work coming into his Northern California studio. When thinking of how his piece is now presented, as compared to when it was first designed to be be seen while traveling at 60 miles per hour, he quietly said “Sometimes you just have to let go.”