Big, bold, and beautiful murals are the latest additions to the long hallways and public spaces of Harmon Guest House—the creative genius of a local artist named Jessica Martin. The five 35-foot murals comprise an installation titled Histories/Futures, which opens formally November 7.
According to Martin, the giant works look at our relationship to the past from the perspective of both human history and geological history. The colorful pieces are totally disarming, and they challenge guests to contemplate our place in the present and reimagine our relationship to the future.
“The pieces embody all the things I’ve been thinking about over the last few years: Balancing joy and despair and having those together in one place and being able to hold them simultaneously,” Martin says. “The pieces also are about holding our potential to be better and to create something new and our responsibility to create something new.”
To hear Martin tell it, the current pieces are the largest murals she has ever done. They will be up through at least March 31, 2022.
The works celebrate nature in the area. In particular, Martin says she was inspired by how each floor of the hotel feels like a new level in a tree canopy, encouraging us to observe what is below and above. She created murals to bridge these spaces and fill these gaps.
“I thought it would be wonderful to paint two murals that continued, like trees, straight through the architecture,” she explains. “I also saw the hallways as an opportunity to create immersive spaces filled with warm colors and shapes inspired from nature, with each cross-section of the mural providing a new experience and environment.”
The murals also were inspired by the strata of glaciers and icebergs. For Martin, these rivers of ice bring up issues of human destruction of nature, as well as challenge us to reflect on the millennia that are contained in the massive ice formations.
She also has a personal history with glaciers; her brother, a mountaineer, died on one nearly 20 years ago and painting them has been a huge part of her ongoing grieving process.
“In this challenging time, I have found that my work has been intensely focused on the healing power of art and nature,” she says. "The shapes and colors in these murals emit the wonder of the world, and the potential we all carry to have a positive, lasting impact on our environment and fellow human beings.”
Martin spent about 10 days in mid-to-late-October painting the murals. She did so during daylight hours while guests were staying in the hotel, creating a fishbowl-type laboratory where guests and staff alike could interact with her while she was creating the art. (The poetry, of course, is that she was creating art with which future guests will be able to interact indefinitely.)
Marigolds – Sidewalk murals with Jake Messing, Naomi Brilliant, and Sandra Novia.
Commitment to the Community
Looking forward, Martin will continue to create art in and around the city of Healdsburg.
She has been tasked to bring together a group of musicians and video artists to create an immersive art experience for the Foley Family Community Pavilion, a structure formerly known as the Purity Building on North Street downtown. The building will be modernized and repurposed in 2022 to make way for what essentially will be an open-air event space.
Martin also is putting the finishing touches on an installation titled You Are Here, which comprises a series of 18 mini (and geolocated) auto-plays that unfold like a self-guided historical audio tour of the town. The more you walk about, the more of the tours you’ll get to hear. When the project goes live next spring, it also will include musician serenades so visitors can walk around down and listen to music that is connected in some fundamental way to where they’re standing.
Before her current project at Harmon Guest House, Martin has spearheaded several other exhibits in and around town.
Most recently, she curated VOICES, a multipart public art project that started in October 2020 and ran through March 2021. The project included giant sidewalk marigold drawings as part of Corazon Healdsburg’s Dia de Los Muertos event; large murals that went over barriers demarking temporary street closures this fall; a series of light sculptures, light tunnels, and film projections dubbed ILLUMINATIONS.
She also worked with other local artists to launch the annual Flash Mob Pie Parade, an event that brings residents together for an impromptu pie-eating party on the Healdsburg Plaza. The parade skipped 2020 due to COVID-19, but most years the shindig draws more than 150 pies.
Annual (except for Covid) Pie-Parade
After participants stroll around the plaza with their goodies, everyone digs in.
Martin received a master’s degree at California College of the Arts and a bachelor’s of anthropology from Vassar College. Her work has been shown at Headlands Center for the Arts, Southern Exposure, San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art, Traywick Contemporary, Pro Arts, The Lab, the diRosa Preserve, and New Langton Arts.
In her free time, Martin teaches art at West Side School. During the COVID pandemic, she launched a visiting artist program through which other talented artists, actors, ceramicists, and musicians visit with students over Zoom to tell them all about their creative lives. Overall, Martin says that through her artwork she strives to bring creativity to the world.
“To be human means to be creative—especially at a time like now,” she says. “That’s what we need most today, and it’s why I’m working so hard to inspire those who can carry it all into tomorrow.”