Amongst the hustle and bustle of downtown Napa in an old cleared out warehouse there is magic happening behind the scenes. The unassuming metal building that once served as a county surplus building, now houses a lonely boat. In a room on the west end of the building the sound of classical music gives evidence that the building is not completely empty. Jose Charles, in his turned down overalls, is busy mixing an array of acrylic paint as he meticulously tries to match color and paint strokes on a now faded mural.
“Classical music, especially Mozart, helps get me in the zone,” said Charles, who spends three-four hours a night a few days week working on project,. Many of you might know the friendly smile and graciousness of Charles. He has worked at the Downtown Napa Post Office for over 25-years.
Charles was one of three original artists commissioned to create a 32 by 15-feet mural that paid homage to the Napa Valley’s Latino community and beyond. It was prominently displayed on the Napa County Building on First Street until earlier this year when it was carefully taken down for restoration.
Cor Greive, Jose Charles, and Rene Pulido completed the mural on Easter Sunday, March 10, 2002, to honor past and contemporary Hispanic activists who promote significant social, cultural, viticultural and economic advances in Napa.
Left to Right: Our Native Napans George Yount, General Mariano Vallejo, Don Cavetano Juarez, Diego Rivera, Roberto Rojas Sr. Lou Flores, Frida Kahlo, Cesar Chavez, Hope Hugo, Aurelio Hurtado, Tala de Wynter, Rafael Rodriquez and Elias Fernandez.
This mural was actually the fifth mural, but the fourth mural, also painted by Cor Greive, on the wall of the former Penney’s building at the corner of First and Franklin, was sadly lost when the building was demolished to make room for the new Avia Hotel.
A Leadership Napa Valley Class initially started the mural project, now hosted by the Napa Chamber of Commerce. LNV, the economy project group of Class VII conceived and completed a project establishing a wall mural downtown. Their purpose was to add to the efforts to revitalize downtown, and they hoped their mural would be the first of many.
Many of the colors have faded after 13 years exposed to the elements, and cracking has started to appear around bolts, including some on people’s faces. In addition, the plywood panels supporting the mural will receive a metal frame intended to prevent contact with the cement surface of the Carithers Building wall.
Charles was asked to go it alone on the restoration to keep the look and feel consistent on the renovated Mural. He was commissioned to do 200 hours worth of work, but Charles said when he completes the work the end of August, he will have logged over 400 hours.
“I don’t mind the work. Art is my way to relax,” said Charles. “This is my zone. I made a commitment and it has to be done. Perfection is important to me. I pay attention to detail. Once I’m done I’ll come back and give everything a final touch.”
This isn’t Charles’ first Mural. Ten years ago he traveled to Kenya to create a world map mural with his daughter. He also helped work on a mural project in Calistoga.
“I hope to retire is a few years from the Post Office and then I will paint full-time,” said Charles, who was born in Monterey, Mexico, but was raised in Napa. “Painting is my passion, but the post office afforded me the opportunity to provide for my family and put my two kids in college.”
Charles claims he’s had a pencil in his hand since he was a small child. “I was always drawing while listening to the teachers, but when I learned how to use a brush, I was hooked. Art is something I have been doing for a long time. I like to tell stories through my art. I want to go as far as I can go. I always believed in myself. Soon it will be my time again and I can focus on my art.”
The biggest challenge for Charles during the restoration was matching the colors and brush strokes of the other two artists.
“It’s hard to go full force with colors because I don’t want to overshadow Cors’ work,” said Charles. “He likes earth tones and I like more vibrant colors. Everyone has their own palate of colors and brush strokes so to stay consistent with the original artist’s vision is my commitment. Rene did a lot of the pencil sketches and I brought them to life with color and detail.”
The first order of the restoration project was to secure and enforce the back of the panels including finishing off with an outdoors sealer.
“I found the best product I could,” said Charles. “Hopefully we won’t have to do another renovation for a long time.”
In March he began the tedious task of accessing the damage and beginning the work.
“You have to step back and take a birds eye look and see where you want to begin,” said Charles. “One of the first things I did was remove some graffiti. It wasn’t bad, but someone painted a pizza by the bear. Some sections were really bad and matching the sky color was the biggest challenge.”
Looking up at his work in progress, Charles said his favorite character to work on was Frieda, a well-known Mexican artist in history.
“They are all icons we look up to,” he smiled. “The greatest reward though is seeing the mural come back to life.”
The City of Napa plans to reinstall the mural on the Carithers Building again in September. NVL