Small town, big heart: Ruben Espinoza creates a new mural in Guadalupe

click to enlarge Small town, big heart: Ruben Espinoza creates a new mural in Guadalupe
SMALL TOWN, BIG HEART:: Muralist Ruben Espinoza was approached by the Squire Foundation to create a mural at the Guadalupe building that once housed the Far Western Tavern and will be the future home of the Dunes Center. The project is a collaboration with the Dunes Center to create community engagement through art.

Artist Ruben Espinoza faced a bigger challenge than usual when working on his latest mural.

As part of the Squire Foundation's Artist in Residence Program, Espinoza was tasked with installing a brand new mural on the side of the building that once housed the historic Far Western Tavern in Guadalupe, now located in Old Town Orcutt. The seasoned muralist was up for the job, until he came face-to-face with the blustering winds many in the region are all too familiar with. 

"It was very, very windy," he said. "And it was unexpected. I know Guadalupe is windy, but I didn't think it would be that windy. I was trying to hold down my tarp, even with four buckets of paint, it was still flying off. Plus, I could only work with a small amount of paint, if the brush was soaked in paint, it would fly everywhere."

But a little spot of bad weather isn't enough to thwart Espinoza, who has spent the past few years in Santa Maria working to bring art to more public spaces. In addition to a recent utility box art project, Espinoza also unveiled a mural at the Old Orcutt Barber Shop last year. So when the Squire Foundation's Artist in Residence Program and the Dunes Center in Guadalupe came together to create a public art installation, Espinoza was a prime candidate. 

The Squire Foundation is a nonprofit centered on civic and educational programs for artists and curators that supports emerging and experimental artistic styles, according to the organization's mission statement. The foundation approached Espinoza based on a recommendation and he eagerly accepted.

"I enrolled in the Artist in Residence Program at the Squire Foundation," he explained. "They have a program in Santa Barbara, but this time they are going to have it in Guadalupe."

Small town, big heart: Ruben Espinoza creates a new mural in Guadalupe
ENGAGE IN ART: To view Ruben Espinoza’s new mural at the former Far Western Tavern in Guadalupe, visit 899 Guadalupe St., Guadalupe. More info: (805) 343-2455 or [email protected]

Espinoza said the program provides housing for artists while they create installations and art works. The program also encourages the public to come and see the artist while they are creating work and to ask questions, highlighting the importance of community engagement. The goal for both organizations is to share public art, which helps bring the broader community together.

The original Far Western building in Guadalupe was built in 1912 and was named The Palace Hotel. In 1958, the Minetti family turned it into the Far Western Tavern where it remained until it moved to Old Town Orcutt in 2012. The family donated the Guadalupe building to the Dunes Center with the idea of converting it to a museum.

"We are excited to continue the tradition of art with the building that holds a special place in the heart of this town," Dunes Center Executive Director Doug Jenzen stated in a press release. "Those who frequented the old Far Western Tavern may remember the remarkable murals on the walls in the bar. Those murals still remain and we're looking to continue that tradition by adding another piece of art that community can enjoy together."

click to enlarge Small town, big heart: Ruben Espinoza creates a new mural in Guadalupe
MURAL, MURAL ON THE WALL: Ruben Espinoza has spent the past few years in the Santa Maria area helping to create and promote public art. He has works in Old Orcutt, Santa Maria, and at Allan Hancock College.

Espinoza said he first approached the mural by researching Guadalupe, to learn about its history. In his research, he came across an article about Japanese-American Harry Masatani, who owned Masatani's Market in Guadalupe. 

"I was really moved by his story," Espinoza said. "He came here when he was a kid and was later put in [a Japanese] internment camp. The article talked about his big heart and how much he gave back to the community." 

From there Espinoza pitched a few ideas until landing on a concept that seemed perfect: small town, big heart. He said he then went to the new location of the Far Western Tavern to study the artwork on the walls. His mural was influenced by what he found.

"I took pictures of the paintings," he said. "The artist uses a lot of pastels, and the work is very western in style. So for my work I also used pastels, but very subdued ones. The style is Western and so is the lettering on the mural."

Espinoza joined members of the Squire Foundation and Dunes Center at a reception to unveil the mural on June 24. The unveiling marks the end of his residency, which is designed to help support the artist through the completion of their work. Espinoza said being part of the storied history of Guadalupe's murals was an honor and special achievement as an artist.

"It's really surreal," he said. "At the same time, I'm loving it." 

Arts and Lifestyle Writer Rebecca Rose is often blown away. Contact her at [email protected].

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