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Whale of an artist helps out with Laguna Beach mural project

Robert Wyland, of California whale tail license plate fame, helps future residents of a facility for the developmentally disabled paint a mural that will let them see Catalina regardless of the weather.

January 28, 2013|By Jill Cowan, Los Angeles Times
  • Artist Robert Wyland, on ladder, works on the mural at the Glennwood House of Laguna Beach, a former assisted living facility that will serve about 50 young adults with developmental disabilities.
Artist Robert Wyland, on ladder, works on the mural at the Glennwood House… (Scott Smeltzer / Daily Pilot…)

On sunny days, from the right spot in its terraced courtyard, future residents of Glennwood House of Laguna Beach will see two Catalinas.

One, of course, will be the island itself, the familiar brown sliver visible on the distant horizon.

The other sits atop the aquamarine waters of a seascape mural that artist Robert Wyland helped prospective residents of Glennwood paint.

Glennwood Housing Foundation Inc. is converting a senior assisted living facility off South Coast Highway into a house that will provide services to about 50 young adults with developmental disabilities. Glennwood House is expected to open in early June, said Executive Director Shauna Bogert.

Wyland, known for his murals and the popular tail-of-the-whale art piece that was featured on California license plates, recently directed a crew of about 12 prospective residents and their families in turning a blank wall into a lively seascape.

"Together, we're going to transform this into a beautiful coastal scene," Wyland told the group before instructing them to pay close attention to his process.

"You may want to paint murals for a living," he said, grinning. "Hey, it worked out pretty good for me."

From a nondescript wall to a mostly finished piece — complete with a barnacle-studded gray whale spraying into the sunset and other marine creatures peeking through the depths — the job took just a few hours.

There wasn't much of a plan, the Laguna Beach resident said, because after completing dozens of murals around the world, he felt at ease improvising.

"It's all happy accidents," he joked.

After taking a moment to squint out at the real Catalina, he leaped off the brick retaining wall where he'd been standing and headed straight for a paint roller.

Within minutes, the painted Catalina was complete, and a blue waterline stretched across the wall.

Soon, the crew of painters began filling in rocks and adding fantastic green kelp. Others went to work on the bright orange sky that hangs above the water.

Lisa Scognamiglio said she too was considering letting loose a little, as she painstakingly shaded a large rock near the bottom of the mural.

"I've never been a perfect artist," the 23-year-old said, shrugging. "Maybe I should just wing it."

Scognamiglio, whose mother looked on with approval, survived a brain tumor when she was 4 and will have an opportunity to live independently when Glennwood is ready to take in residents.

"When you have a special-needs daughter or son, it's a small community," said Jill Scognamiglio, who serves on the Glennwood Housing Foundation board. When young disabled adults achieve a certain level of independence, she said, it "improves self-esteem."

Wyland said he's painted alongside thousands of young people as part of his work through the Wyland Foundation, which he said helps spread a message of conservation.

He's lived in Laguna since 1977, and this year the foundation celebrates its 20th anniversary.

"This is a great community event," Wyland said. "We should be taking care of people — young people."

Most of Glennwood's residents will be on Social Security disability and will pay about $2,500 a month for room, board and services for a single room, $1,900 for a shared room, Bogert said.

Through fundraising, the executive director hopes to pay off the house and cut rent by as much as half. The goal, she said, is to make the residents active contributors to the Laguna Beach community.

Prospective resident Matt Guhl, 22, said he was glad to help out with the mural because he is something of an artist himself. He studied animation, he said, and enjoys drawing and painting.

His formula for picking subjects?

"Whatever pops into my imagination."

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