Artist Explains Placerita Mural on 40th Anniversary
Exactly 40 years after it was dedicated, the artist responsible for the mural next to the Oak of the Golden Dream returned to Placerita Canyon State Park to describe its features and explain how he did it.
Rudolph “Rudy” Pavini, now 81, was working at the Placerita Canyon Nature Center as a naturalist when the Los Angeles County Parks Department persuaded him in 1976 to paint a mural on the walls of the flood-control channel where Placerita Canyon Road crosses Placerita Creek. The mural was to depict the history of the park.
Pavini, who lives in Canyon Country, was neither a naturalist nor a historian by trade; he was an artist. Born in Massachusetts, Pavni attended art school in Boston and taught art for 25 years in elementary schools and after-school programs.
So he researched the history of the area in the local library and decided to paint six panels, each representing a different point in history.
Hiking along the trail from the Nature Center to the famous golden oak, viewers walk forward in time from pre-dawn of man through the arrival of Tataviam Indians, followed by the Spanish, Mexican and finally the American periods
One of the best known features is Pavini’s depiction of Francisco Lopez and the nearby tree where legend tells us Lopez napped, dreamed of riches, and awoke to discover gold flakes clinging to the roots of some wild onions.
A favorite among visiting schoolchildren is the last panel, which shows prospectors sitting around a morning campfire, preparing for another hard day’s work.
It took Pavini three months to complete the mural, which was dedicated May 23, 1976. He said he was still leading schoolchildren on hikes while he worked on it; he occasionally enlisted their aid in painting lower portions of the mural while he worked on the upper portions, which required scaffolding.
Addressing a group of several dozen Placerita Canyon Nature Center volunteers and county park staff members Monday, Pavini revealed some hidden secrets of the mural. Upon close inspection, the viewer will see that certain features are raised; Pavini used a polymer mixture with local sand to create the texture of the riverbed, and he used sawdust for the bark of the golden oak. Irregularities in pictures of boulders represent Native American petroglyphs, and the rider on horseback in a late-afternoon scene with a reddish orange sky is intended to be Francisco Lopez.
By and large, the acrylic painting has withstood the ravages of time. Ranger Frank Hoffman said he has seen water to a 5-foot level in the channel during El Nino weather events, covering lower portions of the mural, which is only about three feet off the ground in certain places. Most of the mural is shielded from direct sunlight, and Pavini said he used a protective coating so it can be cleaned.
For more information about the Placerita Canyon Nature Center, click here.
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