When you ask people if they like the new 60-foot-long collage that decorates one wall of the La Mirada Post Office, there is sometimes a long pause.
Occasionally, a very long pause.
"Well . . . it's different," they say, finally.
Or, "It's interesting."
A few don't pause at all. "That's gross!" one woman blurted as she confronted the work-in-progress as it neared completion. "It looks like corpses on the wall."
Not What You'd Expect
A surprising number, however, like it a lot. Surprising not because the collage, intended to be permanent, isn't good art, but because it's, well . . . different. It's not the quiet, predictable artwork people expect on post office walls.
The mural or collage or assemblage or relief--no one is quite sure how to label it--depicts the history of La Mirada in three-dimensional, life-size figures. The figures, topped by enlarged photographs of historic faces, wear real clothes of earlier eras and carry lunch pails, Coke bottles, umbrellas and other accessories. Miniature toy cows swarm around the figures' ankles in farm scenes.
Creating a mural was the idea of postal worker Richard Deyarmond. Deyarmond is the coordinator of the first La Mirada Postal Employees Art Show, which is being held in conjunction with the dedication of the mural Friday. When he thought of a mural to go along with the art show, he contacted the art department of nearby Biola University.
Assistant art professor Barry Krammes saw the 6-foot-high, 60-foot-long blank wall above the bank of post office boxes as a perfect project for his three-dimensional design class and accepted the challenge.
Official Historian Appointed
"I'm tired of two-dimensional murals, so I suggested three-dimensional to (the postal officials)," he said. "I don't think they knew what I was talking about. They said, 'Sure, sure, fine.' "
Bob Camp, who has been appointed official historian of La Mirada by the City Council, was brought in to help.
In addition to his expertise, Camp supplied the photographs that were enlarged to life size for the faces of the figures and provided many of the clothes for the mannequins. Without his knowledge, Camp, 75, was immortalized as the final figure in the panel.
The 14 students in Krammes' class created the mural as a team. They spent all 17 weeks of the semester on the project and, in the final rush to finish before the end of school, worked days and until almost midnight several nights.
They donated more than just ideas and talent: Three students modeled for the figures. Wrapped from neck to toes in plastercraft--the same stuff doctors once used to make casts for broken legs--the students stood or sat motionless until the layers of plastercraft hardened sufficiently to be cut away.
The public took to the mural-in-progress and encouraged the students while they worked.
"People's reactions would boost your excitement," said student Corrina Bangma . "Little kids would go: 'Look, Mommy, look at the man on the wall!' "
A visitor, known only as "Mr. Harper," did more than encourage the students. He gave them carpentry lessons. After showing the artists how to hold a hammer, he started bringing his own tools for them to use. Finally, he climbed one of the ladders himself and pitched in.
"We don't know who he is," Krammes said, "but we sure appreciated the help."
Another longtime resident dropped by several times, sharing reminiscences of the "olden days" in La Mirada.
Although no plaque credits the Biola students, Krammes said, several have sneaked back and signed the mural in unobtrusive places such as the bottom of a shoe or under a hand.
In addition to long-ago figures, the mural depicts a number of people instrumental in the founding of the City of La Mirada in 1960.
Next to historian Camp is the first city clerk, Anna J. Martin, who served from the city's incorporation until she retired in 1986. Next to her is Jerome Resnick, the first mayor; then Samuel Sutherland, a longtime president of Biola University.
Lela Criswell, postmaster from 1950 to 1965, is shown with her husband, Jesse, both wearing 1940s clothes. Andrew McNally, the original rancher in the area, takes center stage; beyond him are figures from the more distant past, all wearing authentic clothing. Their poses are derived from photographs in Camp's collection.
Bangma said she was skeptical of the project at first, but now she's proud of the mural and glad for the experience. "We all got a lot closer," she said. "We got to know each other more than we would just sitting in class."
Krammes is not at all perturbed by the occasional negative reaction.
"Hopefully, this is what good art does," he said. "Makes people react."