By DENNIS WYATT
Modesto has the Mistlin Gallery. Tracy has the Grand Theatre for the Arts. Turlock has the Carnegie Arts Center. Stockton has the Haggin Museum. And Manteca has its downtown.
Manteca has arguably the largest public arts project in the 209 thanks to the Manteca Mural Society launched 15 years ago.
There are nearly 30 murals in downtown that tell Manteca’s story in terms of its culture, its people, its economy, and its history. There are six murals located at the Manteca Senior Center, which is not in the downtown area.
“It is a million dollar art project,” noted Tom Wilson, who served as the society’s founding president.
That figure represents the cost of a typical mural that can run $25,000 or more.
What sets the Manteca effort apart from other mural endeavors in the Northern San Joaquin Valley, beside its scope, is the commitment to longevity.
“People ask sometimes why it takes so long to get a mural in place when murals in other places go up in a day or so,” Wilson said.
The society works with owners of buildings with an appropriate “canvas” — walls that are large enough and don’t have an excessive exposure to the sun — and spends a considerable amount of money upgrading the surface to make it conducive to painting. In cases where high profile walls have issues that can’t be addressed by prepping the surface, technology is employed to mount them on panels.
As a result, some murals are painted over the course of weeks on the side of buildings by professional muralists that prevail in a design competition for a specific mural. The muralists — who have hailed from across the country and even Europe — have work in public places across the globe.
Dave Gordon — a professional muralist from the Bay Area who has done several of the murals — serves as an adviser to the Manteca Mural Society.
Before a call goes out for muralists in a bid to select three who are paid to come up with designs to compete for the final selections, the society painstakingly researches the mural subject.
Typically that involves a series of community meetings where residents are invited to provide input and even share historic images.
A number of the murals contain the faces of Manteca residents including those who have passed away, or a historic reference.
The most recent mural dedicated May 19 as part of Manteca’s centennial celebration as a city is the fifth and final mural on the Veterans Wall on the side of the 30-foot plus tall Manteca Bedquarters building overlooking downtown’s key intersection at Yosemite Avenue and Main Street.
The latest mural dubbed “Zero Hour,” salutes those from the Manteca area who served a hundred years ago in World War I. It joins four other murals honoring those who served in World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the Global War on Terror.
The World War II mural, as an example, not only incorporates familiar elements of that war, but also the faces of some of the 965 from Manteca who served in the Marines, Army, Navy, Army Air Corps, Merchant Marines and the Coast Guard. There is even an image of a Manteca resident representing the Rosie the Riverters who helped churn out ships, airplanes, tanks and more to support the war effort.
The series of murals cost $125,000. While “Zero Hour” was funded by the City as part of the centennial celebration the rest of the money for the other four murals — as well as others downtown — was raised through donations.
The murals run the gamut from one depicting cruising Yosemite Avenue in the early 1960s to one showing farm workers pitching pumpkins into a tractor-drawn trailer to “Manteca Snow” that depicts the delicate white and pink almond flowers still in trees in an orchard as well as lining the grass.
The first mural dedicated on the City’s 85th anniversary of being a city in 2013 graces the Century Furniture wall across the street from the Manteca Bedquarters and is dubbed “Crossroads 1918.” It shows the street scene you would have seen if you were standing there a century ago looking west on Yosemite Avenue from Main Street.
Information on the murals as well as directions and a suggested walking tour can be found by going to mantecamurals.com.