Brick by brick

Ceramicist Janice Hofmann works with local youth to beautify the community through tile murals

FIRED UP <br> Janice Hoffman, owner of All Fired Up gallery/clay studio, worked with tribal youth on the Mechoopda Trail Youth Mural.

Janice Hoffman, owner of All Fired Up gallery/clay studio, worked with tribal youth on the Mechoopda Trail Youth Mural.

Photo By matt siracusa

Get your hands dirty
Coming to All Fired Up: Wild Women’s Clay Party, third Fridays—refreshments at 5:30 p.m.; clay playing at 6 p.m. $35. All Fired Up

“I told the kids, ‘You can make anything you want that you might see in the park—for example, no Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. And no feral cats,’ ” said well-known local ceramicist Janice Hofmann. “But we did get a couple of feral cats anyway.”

Hofmann, who owns local clay studio and art gallery All Fired Up, was referring to the 952 tiles that local schoolchildren made under her guidance over a four-month period this past school year. The pieces will be part of her large tile mural to be constructed inside the new Annie’s Glen bike tunnel, which will provide a path into Bidwell Park under where Pine and Cypress streets come together over Big Chico Creek (otherwise known as the Martin Collins Polk Bridge). The tunnel is slated to be completed by mid-August.

The 100-foot-long-by-8-feet-high mural will depict a typical Bidwell Park scene of blue sky, trees and rocky ground—and, of course, lots of animals.

She said the city of Chico approached her to make the tunnel mural specifically from tiles because tiles are “the most graffiti-resistant material.”

“Tiles are very hard, very resistant,” said Hofmann. “If they do get painted over, they are easier to clean than concrete, which is porous.”

Additionally, graffiti artists (and the homeless) will be discouraged from lingering in the tunnel, as it will be “highly lit, day and night, with fluorescent sconces and skylights,” explained Hofmann. “It will be very uncomfortable to sleep there at night.”

The kids, mostly from six local elementary schools, painted pictures of dragonflies, birds, frogs, butterflies, and so on, on the green, blue, brown and beige commercial tiles used in 90 percent of the city-sponsored project. Most of the remaining 10 percent—the more elaborate, handmade “accent” tiles also featuring park fauna—were made by advanced art students at Chico Junior High School and a local group of visually impaired children.

ON DISPLAY <br /> The Mechoopda Trail Youth Mural has been installed at Verbena Fields.

Photo By Matt Siracusa

“I told the kids, ‘If it’s a blue tile, make something flying through the air; if it’s a brown tile, something creeping on the ground’,” Hofmann continued. “But the mural has some frogs levitating through the air [on blue tiles].

“If people see a snail in the middle of the sky, that’s why,” added Hofmann, smiling. “Because not everybody follows directions.”

Hofmann will also be making decorative tile “Welcome” signs for each end of the tunnel, and little murals of a quail family, a squirrel, a fawn and a red-tailed hawk for the tunnel’s four “wing walls”—two at each entrance.

“I really love working with kids,” offered Hofmann, whose studio has been the center of Chico’s public tile-art creation as of late. The most recently completed project is the Mechoopda Trail Youth Mural, which was installed June 26 alongside a trail in Chico’s newest city park, Verbena Fields, on the site of a former gravel quarry on East First Avenue.

The Mechoopda tile mural tells the creation story of the local Mechoopda Maidu Indians—how two gods, Kodoyompeh and Konyoncauy, were helped by Turtle to create Earth. Mechoopda tribe member Ali Knight drew the original picture for the 4-by-5-foot mural. Hofmann enlarged Knight’s drawing to actual size and helped local Mechoopda tribal youth transfer the designs onto clay tiles, which they then carved, sculpted and glazed in the warm browns and oranges that predominate in the striking piece.

The Sutter Buttes are featured in one section of the mural, providing a backdrop for an oak tree loaded with acorns. Mechoopda lore, Hofmann pointed out, has it that the Mechoopda tribe is “the most blessed, has the most beautiful women, the best acorns.”

Hofmann described the making of the mural—which took her, Knight and the Mechoopda youth about 50 hours to complete—and the creation of Verbena Fields itself as “a pretty amazing project.”

“They are putting tens of thousands of dollars in native plants [into the park],” said Hofmann. “They’ve even replanted poison oak out there.”

Hofmann said that as soon as the tunnel mural is finished, she will move on to her next community tile project, a mural “showing fruits and vegetables racing on a race track” in the cafeteria of Citrus Elementary School. “My personal tendency is to want to do community work,” she said.