A desire to raise awareness about arts and culture while priming the community for an effort to give a local landmark new life led a partnership to create a mural in downtown Guadalupe on Saturday.

The Santa Barbara-based Squire Foundation and Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Center joined forces to help create a large mural featuring unique photographs of eight women from Guadalupe.

The Squire Foundation provided the artist, and the Dunes Center offered up an exterior wall of its future home -- the former home of the Far Western Tavern.

“Public art is our favorite thing,” said Jana Brody, Squire Foundation Artist in Residence program manager.

The art foundation regularly selects artists to come to Santa Barbara County to create art and expose local communities to the arts. For northern Santa Barbara County, members selected conceptual fine arts photographer Lindsey Ross to create art.

“It is an honor to get to do a mural on such a beautiful building in this town. I was really curious about the North County and Guadalupe,” said Ross, who is based in Santa Barbara.

The piece, now part of the former Far Western Tavern building, is called “Women of Guadalupe,” according to Squire Foundation officials.

“We tried to bring together a variety of ages, backgrounds and people who are an integral part of the community,” Ross said.

The Dunes Center helped select the women that are featured in the mural.

“Everyone can see a piece of themselves when they look at this. There is such a variety of women and people that she has chosen that no matter who you are you will be able to connect with them. It is such a unique thing for this town; it really provides a sense of place,” said Doug Jenzen, Dunes Center executive director.

The 20-feet by 20-feet mural is a collection of eight photograph portraits captured with a special photography method -- wet plate collodion process.

Ross became interested in wet plate collodion process when she viewed a collection of early 20th-century prisoner mug shots while studying for her Master of Fine Arts degree.

To produce wet plate collodion process photography, Ross needs a lot of equipment, some of it is nearly a century old and she has to create a dark room for her plates to produce the images at the locations of her photo shoots.

“In some ways, it is really instant. You get to see the photo in about 10 minutes. In some ways, it is very slow. It is really equipment-intensive. I have chemicals and a dark room,” Ross said.

She said her chosen photography method requires her to be "present."

“I learned this process about seven years ago and it has been the primary method of photography for me since then. It has made me slow down. I have to be in the present physically with my subjects and pay attention to the chemicals and stuff."

Guadalupe’s newest mural is special for its creator because it is the first time she has seen her work at this size. Ross can only create images as large as her camera. To make them the size needed for the mural, she had to have them enlarged and printed on a special large-format printer.

“I think that with each portrait you get a sense of the character of the woman. They are all so different and have different experiences. If people are passing through the town and don’t really see the people they can see the character of the town manifested in this physical mural on the wall,” Ross said.

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Though large, the mural is not permanent. It was created to eventually fade away.

The portraits were printed on paper and applied to the wall with organic wheat-based glue. As it ages, it will degrade and fade away.

Karen Evangelista, Dunes Center Board of Directors president and who is featured in the mural as a lady of Guadalupe, said she hopes the mural gets people talking.

“The arts bring the community together. If it is going to cause conversation, and I am sure my mug will, then that is what art is about. If it is going to be temporary, then let it be the backdrop of the renovation. We are excited,” Evangelista said.

Michelle Minetti-Smith, 2017 Santa Barbara County teacher of the year who is also featured in the piece, called it an honor. Being a part of the mural really means a lot to Minetti-Smith’s family, as they donated the Far Western Tavern to the Dunes Center.

“This building has a lot of history for me. I am very honored especially to be in the company of the women who were chosen to be a part of it,” Minetti-Smith said.

Jenzen said The Dunes Center will kick off its capital campaign at the start of next month. The Far Western Tavern is about 10 times the size of the current center. The campaign will pay for additional and expanded exhibits at the new location.

“The far Western Tavern used to be the center of the community. What we are hoping to do is turn it back in to that. We are going to start with this mural,” Jenzen said.

Logan B. Anderson covers city government in Santa Maria for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter: @LoganBAnderson.

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