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Mural Route

It's a Scenic Path--Color All Year, Ever-Blooming Flowers and Grandkids Who Don't Grow Up

May 22, 1999|KATHRYN BOLD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Whenever Harlene Goodrich gazes at the white fence surrounding the backyard of her Seal Beach home, she's reminded of her grandchildren.

The reason?

The kids are staring right back at her.

Los Angeles has murals of marathon runners adorning its freeways and Laguna Beach has buildings painted with underwater scenes of whales and such; Goodrich has her seven grandkids. The fence has been painted with near life-sized portraits, a kind of outdoor family album.

Goodrich's longtime friend and artist Sally Wilkerson painted the mural to dress up the plain white slats and capture images of her grandchildren before they're grown.

"The fence makes me smile," Goodrich said. "Here are all of my little people whom I adore."

As Goodrich's fence demonstrates, murals can decorate small, private spaces as well as grand public venues. They've become a popular way to transform an otherwise plain wall or fence into outdoor art.

The youngsters have been painted as Goodrich wants to remember them, engaging in the favorite pursuits and passions of their childhoods.

There's Spencer the bare-chested toddler, now 5, bearing a saw and hammer, a tool belt sagging around his middle.

"His favorite thing is a hardware store," Goodrich said. "I like his stomach sticking out, but now he wants his shirt on."

Natalie, now 13, sits cross-legged on the grass holding her baby cousin Colby.

"She was 11 at the time this was painted, and she kept saying, 'You're not going to make my legs too big?' " The baby, Goodrich said with a sigh, has lost his curly hair.

There's 8-year-old Caroline, striking a pose as a ballerina, and Miles, 11, in full hockey regalia.

The fence, which surrounds a redwood deck and numerous potted plants on the narrow beach lot, is also an enduring legacy of a friendship that has lasted half a century. Goodrich and Wilkerson have known each other since both were students at South Gate Junior High in Los Angeles 50 years ago. They graduated together from South Gate High.

"There were 122 in our graduating class. We always kept up," Goodrich said.

*

Admiring her fence can brighten Goodrich's mood and trigger happy memories, she says. In fact, murals can have a therapeutic effect. At the Florence Crittenton children's home in Fullerton, artist Dani Jackman volunteered to paint a garden fence with sunflowers, hollyhocks and other cheerful motifs.

"I wanted to make it uplifting," Jackman said. "In winter, when plants die off, it still looks nice. We have color year-round."

Jackman recently turned her paintbrush to the interior of the home, drawing murals of lattice, flowerpots, park benches and other outdoor scenes to "get rid of the institutional look."

"The reaction of the kids has been great," Jackman said. "They've shown respect for all the murals."

Painting and murals, which have long been popular in home interiors, have become trendy for exterior walls and fences, said Jackman, owner of Designs by Dani in Pomona. She paints murals on tile or directly on the wall or other surface.

"If you can't get a bougainvillea to bloom, we'll paint one."

Jackman charges $100 to $200 to put a mural on a fence. "A lot of people do their own stenciling. It's pretty easy, but it's not custom," she said.

Goodrich got the idea for her fence a couple of years ago after seeing Wilkerson put the finishing touches on a floor-to-ceiling mural in a granddaughter's bedroom. Her tastes were more grown-up than the giraffes and elephants that inhabited the room, but she still wanted something personal.

Goodrich had done some freehand painting on her own, but the results were "amateurish," she said. So she enlisted Wilkerson's help.

Wilkerson, a resident of nearby Rossmoor, specializes in oil and watercolor portraits of people and houses. This was her first fence.

To begin the process, Goodrich gave her photographs of her grandchildren in what she calls their "mood of the moment." Austin, now 7, was pictured during his firefighter phase a few years ago, when he wanted nothing more than to wear his fireman's hat and play with firetrucks.

"I found pictures of them from a time I wanted to remember them," Goodrich said.

Wilkerson enlarged the pictures and used them to create drawings of the kids, working in three-quarter scale, then traced the drawings onto the fence. Instead of working on a smooth canvas, she had to contend with rough wood, being careful to position the figures so their faces would land in the middle of one of the wooden planks.

"No one's face can be bigger than a slat," she said.

*

Wilkerson painted the portraits with a long-lasting acrylic that would withstand the weather but is harder to work with than oils or watercolors because it dries quickly. She added a coat of clear gloss over the children's faces to further protect them from fading, the same process used on the massive murals in Los Angeles.

The portraits, finished in summer 1998, still look newly painted. They survived heavy rains while under construction without any damage. Goodrich then painted the background, adding grass, a stone path and stenciled sunflowers, foxgloves and wisteria.

She expects the mural to last long after the grandkids have grown. For now, the fence serves as a constant reminder of the children, four of whom live in the Bay Area; three live in Huntington Beach.

"It's amazing how much the portraits look like them," Goodrich said.

Goodrich and Wilkerson are collaborating on a children's picture book. Goodrich, a playwright, writer and part-time student-teacher supervisor at Chapman University in Orange, is writing the story; Wilkerson illustrates.

Goodrich has vowed that the fence will never be repainted, even if she leaves her home of 18 years.

"If she moves, it goes with her," Wilkerson said.

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