The natural world has checked in for a while at Harmon Guest House and is now taking up residence in the stairwell leading from the lobby to The Rooftop bar and restaurant.
Great blue herons, barn swallows, and blackbirds are among the new creatures to call the hotel home.
The lifelike birds are now fixtures on the walls—thanks to Healdsburg artist Jake Messing. The renowned painter and illustrator has created them as the latest installment of Harmon’s ongoing artist-in-residence program that celebrates local artists and their work. Messing calls the exhibit Blue Harmon.
Think of the exhibit as an invitation to rise like a bird. Messing said he always has felt inspired by the majesty of the lyricism of blue herons, and he painted them to lead guests from the ground to the sky for a new experience.
New life, growth, and ascension
“The idea is to welcome people, invite them in, intrigue them, and get them to follow the birds up,” he said. “Let nature lead.”
Beyond that, Messing said he was trying to use the piece to bring to light some of the water issues facing Sonoma County as we enter our third consecutive summer of drought. Blue herons are water birds, and the barn swallows and redwing blackbirds are other birds found around waterways in Sonoma County.
All told the piece comprises nearly three dozen animals in various states of flight or repose. Many of them are in full color. Some are just outlines. The best way to take in all the various forms of fauna is to climb the steps slowly.
For Messing, the blue heron represents a spirit animal.
They are solitary for the most part—much like him when he paints. He notes that in many cultures the blue heron represents self-reliance and good luck. In certain Native American cultures, if you saw a blue heron on a hunt, it was a sign that you were going to have good luck.
“Whenever I see [a blue heron] in the real world, I slow the car down, point out the window, and tell the kids to look,” he noted. “You don’t do that too often with other birds and with other animals.”
inspired by the natural world
Messing has made a career out of wildlife art; most of his paintings and illustrations are intricate snapshots of different fauna. Subject species span the gamut from birds to mammals to crustaceans and more. Messing noted that he commonly uses reference material as he works and that he did so for the project at the Harmon.
This approach enables the artist to make his work as authentic and realistic as possible.
“I’m super inspired by the natural world and what surrounds us, especially the beauty here in Sonoma County,” Messing said. “To be able to do that here, in this beautiful setting, is a real treat for me on a number of levels.”
NOCI Sonoma Map detail, 2018
Messing is a Healdsburg kid. After growing up here in northern Sonoma County, he moved to New York City, where he managed the art department for Tiffany & Company’s global visual merchandising team and was showcased in several galleries. He also taught drawing and painting as an adjunct professor at NYU’s Tisch graduate department before becoming an independent artist full time.
Since then, Messing has been invited to participate in multiple international artist residencies, including Camac Centre d’ Arte (Paris, France) and the Banff Center (British Columbia, Canada), along with numerous group exhibitions around North America.
He continues to work as a freelance artist, designer, and consultant for some of the world’s biggest luxury brands, including Harry Winston, Tiffany & Co., Van Cleef & Arpels, Nike, and Bergdorf Goodman, among others. One of his recent projects was a 40'x125' mural for the new Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
The Messing mural at Harmon Guest House will be available to view until September 2022, and is one of several different art installations currently on display.
Harmon’s commitment to supporting the arts
Since it opened, Harmon Guest House has proven its commitment to supporting the arts with a permanent collection of commissioned art and rotating temporary exhibitions. According to Circe Sher, president of Piazza Hospitality, these exhibits say as much about the hotel as they do about the artists who created them.
“With our artist collaborations at Harmon, we offer up our spaces as a blank canvas for each new artist to find inspiration,” she said. “It’s exciting to see where they choose to display their work and what they come up with. It’s a very special collaboration that is quintessentially Harmon.”
All Harmon art exhibits are open to guests and the general public. Messing also has four big pieces on display at the new Bannister Wines tasting room (expected to be open by June 4) on Geyserville Avenue near Diavola in Geyserville.