Three-Story Tall Mural Mark’s the Water Forum’s 20th Anniversary, Celebrates the Lower American River

On a cold, cloudy December day, high above the Sacramento County Administration Building plaza in downtown Sacramento, two men begin the process of installing a new three-story-tall work of art.

Commissioned by the Sacramento Water Forum for its 20th Anniversary, the artwork celebrates the beauty and wonder of the Lower American River, the Sacramento region’s crown jewel and the only nationally designated Wild and Scenic River running through a major metropolitan area.

Slowly over the next three days, the two men would transform an expansive blank brick canvas into a startling image teeming with Chinook salmon, steelhead trout, beaver, otter, raccoon, coyote and people enjoying the river as the walk, bicycle and play along the shore.

“It’s just stunning, and very fitting for our work,” said Water Forum Executive Director Tom Gohring as he watches the team working from a swing-stage suspended from the building’s roof. “The Water Forum is about building partnerships among diverse interests—water providers, environmentalists, the business community—to balance the water needs of people vs the environment. That requires participants to understand perspectives far different from their own. This mural invites us to do that.”

The artwork takes an underwater perspective, looking up from the bottom of the river as an otter might, notes artist Stephanie Taylor. “It’s immersive,” Taylor said. “Seeing it in person, looking from the ground to the river’s surface, you feel as if you are standing within the river,” she said, noting how the river and this project was her peace during this crazy pandemic year.

The mural was created from Taylor’s original painting, The Lower American River, which was digitally printed onto a vinyl wall wrap 60 feet wide by 45 feet tall and cut into 15 long strips. Installation began at the roofline. Installers Chris Bonus and Anthony Hrusovsky carefully unrolled and placed each strip from the rooftop to the treetops below, gently removing the adhesive lining from the vinyl as they went, hand pressing the material to the wall. They then used heat and pressure to adhere the wrap to the brick. Slowly, at about 3 inches per second, they moved a hand-held heat gun firing at 1,000 degrees across the mural, conforming the artwork to the wall.

You can see the complete process in a time-lapse video here:

Sacramento County was a primary driver of the Water Forum negotiations and agreement two decades ago, and so it is fitting that the County Administration Building is serving as the canvas for this tribute to the river and the region’s progress toward reaching the Water Forum’s co-equal goals of providing a reliable and safe water supply for the Sacramento region’s long-term economic health and preserving the fishery, wildlife, recreational and aesthetic values of the Lower American River, said District Two Supervisor Patrick Kennedy, who spearheaded efforts to place the mural on the County’s empty brick wall.

“This is a perfect place for peaceful reflection about the river as a source of community pride, as well as our commitment to preserve and protect it through the Water Forum Agreement—now and for generations to come,” Kennedy said.

The artwork is expected to remain in place for the next two to three years at the Sacramento County Administration Building at 700 H Street (on the I Street side) and was made possible by the support of the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors and sponsors: the Sacramento County Water Agency, the City of Sacramento Department of Utilities, San Juan Water District, SMUD and the Sacramento Association of Realtors.