Submitted by: Gayl and Tom Wilson
The one word that comes to mind in describing the history of the Manteca Mural Society is serendipity.
Tom and I happened to take a train ride on Vancouver Island and stop at a small town for lunch. When we arrived there we were amazed at the hundreds of murals throughout town. They were large and small, on prominent walls, in alleys, everywhere. It made a real impression on us.
Years later, after trying to get the city interested during different focus groups (such as the 2020 task force), we decided to reach out to the community and start the Manteca Mural Society as a non-profit 501c(3) in 2002. With the help of the Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Historical Society, and talented local artist and business people, we were able to take the flat architecture of this city and add art in the form of murals. Our motto is: “Public Art for a Better Community.”
We were delighted at the public response. It was the right time and the citizens and businesses of this community were eager to add to the financial base that has made this such a successful endeavor. Before the first mural was even designed, we had raised $65,000. There is a huge bronze plaque on the American Legion Hall at 226 East Yosemite Avenue honoring the hundreds of donations we received.
Rarely does an organization embrace an entire town. From the very young to the elders in the community, the Manteca Mural Society touches them all. The residents, the many service organizations and businesses, and city hall support the Mural Society. The media, from Manteca to Sacramento has continued support by covering the progress of the Manteca Mural Society and, in turn, promoting awareness of the arts.
Our first mural was also a part of the continuing serendipity. The gentleman who owned the business at 110 West Yosemite Avenue was from Tunisia and knew how mural art competitions had added to the interest and beauty of his hometown. He was excited about having a mural on his building and made a large donation for the project.
We searched the internet and spoke with other “mural cities” about different artists. We contacted three artists and asked for an RFP for our first mural. We were very lucky that the artists we eventually chose, Dave Gordon, was coming through the area on his annual trip to Yosemite and stopped to see the wall. Dave was a research hound. He started at the Historical Society and met with many knowledgeable local people. Eventually we had a design and the painting began.
This mural was dedicated as a center point of the 85th anniversary of the founding of the city of Manteca. It was a lively celebration with the community coming together to provide everything for free; car show, popcorn, ice cream, cotton candy and more.
As of 2019 we have completed 32 murals. These murals depict our history, our heritage, our geography and our accomplishments. They range from 4 ft by 8 ft murals painted by children in the community, to our 138 ft long “Cruising Manteca” mural. They are created to build community pride as well as create a cultural bridge between the past, present and future.
Many of our murals have provided an opportunity to add more than art to the community. The dedication for “Cruising Manteca,” like the dedication for “Crossroads,” included celebration. The highlight was a car show and a cruise of the town. Two of the projects, “Sierra’s Crown” and “Service Above Self” also included the installation of plazas to enhance the artwork and the area.
Most fun of all are the community murals, painted by local volunteer artists under the direction of a Master Artist who designs the mural. People of all ages, interests and abilities paint these murals in one weekend. They come to the wall to help paint and make a little part of Manteca their own. The children’s murals in Library Park gave so many children a chance to be part of a lasting artwork. Each time they see the murals, they can point to their work and show their families their names painted on the frame.
Our most ambitious project so far was the Veterans’ Mural Project at the intersection of Yosemite Avenue and Main Street. Many hundreds of volunteer hours and thousands of dollars went into this project. It honors the service of our citizens from World War I, World War II, Korean War, Vietnam, and the Global War on Terror. We were fortunate to have some excellent artists work with us to make this “one of a kind” memorial.
According to Dennis Wyatt of the Manteca Bulletin, “Visitors to downtown Manteca can’t help but notice the many large murals depicting local scenes painted on the sides of buildings. The murals are credited with generating renewed interest not just in downtown and the arts but also in people wanting to find out more about the community in which they live.”
Together, the members of this community have created and are still creating a beautiful, professional outdoor art gallery that tells a simple yet beautiful story about Manteca, our home. It is public art of which Mantecans can be proud.
As a “mural” becomes part of the community, the “community” becomes part of the mural. This gives us much to think about as we plan new projects or the maintenance and care of the existing art.
Thank you for your interest in the Manteca Mural Society. As you read this, we hope that we have created many more murals and that you are still able to enjoy murals in our town!