Artist Sevan Thometz had originally planned to make a quiet statement about the environment by painting a mural on the wall of a beachfront apartment building in Santa Monica showing oceanic life as it once was.
Then he met Gary Hurst.
Hurst, a former building contractor, and Thometz have now formed a nonprofit group, Planet Care International, to paint murals in cities across the country as a way to raise money for environmental groups and get children involved in their project.
Hurst wants to coordinate his efforts with those of another environmental group planning a walk across the country.
Thometz, a Topanga resident, said he wanted to paint a mural as an expression of his appreciation for the beauty of dolphins and whales and to promote awareness of the environment.
The 40-by-132-foot mural, on the south wall of the Sea Castle apartment building at 1725 The Promenade, depicts a whale, dolphins, sea turtles, gulls and pelicans life-size to convey their grandeur. The mural bears the words: We did not inherit this earth from our parents, we are borrowing it from our children.
Thometz began painting his mural about a year ago with a $7,000 grant from the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, a national environmental group. That money ran out quickly, and he could only work on the mural weekends.
He placed a donation box on the ground, while he painted, collecting loose change from admiring passers-by. In a year, he said, he has collected only about $2,500.
But one of those admirers was Hurst, who provided Thometz with an air compressor after the one he had been using broke.
"I had a brand-new air compressor I wasn't using, so I let him use it," Hurst said.
After that meeting in April, Hurst said, he was so touched by Thometz's commitment that he decided to help him organize the nationwide mural project.
Hurst said he hopes to raise money to finish the "Ocean's Pride" mural by getting individual and corporate sponsors and by "auctioning" it. He said the highest bidder would get a plaque placed on the mural with the name of the person or company that "bought" it.
The two are involving children also by having them paint the bottom portion of the mural and will have them place their handprints and initials on it to show their commitment to bettering the environment. Thometz and Hurst hope to do the same with murals they plan for other cities.
"We want the kids to believe their contributions make a difference," Hurst said.
He managed to persuade organizers of a nationwide walk called "Global Walk for a Liveable World" to start their Feb. 1 trek from the mural as they head for the United Nations building in New York City, passing through 10 other cities along the way.
Hurst said he hopes to find sponsors for Thometz to do murals in these and other cities in conjunction with the walk and disburse the money to local and national environmental groups. So far he has commitments for murals in Phoenix, Albuquerque and New York City.
Thometz hopes to paint the murals in each of the cities with the help of a mechanized scaffold device he designed that allows him to move quickly across a wall. He said the time saved building and tearing down a scaffold to paint a large mural will allow him to finish one in less than a month.
Thometz is still several thousand dollars short of completing "Ocean's Pride," but he is hoping that by Feb. 1, he will have raised enough money to complete the mural and launch his dream.
"I just want to paint murals across the country and make people aware that we have got to stop the destruction of our planet," he said.