Take a Stroll through Time with Community Art Project
By Pamela Biery
The first time I drove toward Colfax’s historic town center, I looked to my right on South Auburn Street and saw a very long mural painted on a wall along the right hand side of the road—I knew there must be a story to this detailed shadow mural, and I was right.
In 2012, Colfax resident and full time artist Jim Bowers was walking down the sidewalk on South Auburn on a hot summer afternoon. He began to study the shadows he was casting on the wall. His shadow was following him in detail along the entire 350’ cinder block wall. He decided then and there that this was a great site for shadow art.
Visitors and art lovers can now travel back in time, and even, in the late afternoon or early evening cast their own shadow on the wall and take a photo that includes them. This is interactive art—you can add your shadow and create a temporary illusion of your image along the timeline.
To realize his inspiration, Jim Bowers contacted his longtime painting partner, retired art teacher Foxey McCleary. Foxey’s family has lived in Colfax since the pioneer days. Together, Jim and Foxey found people in town who costumed themselves for different historical roles. Bowers and McCleary organized these volunteers into a timeline, creating a series of eleven vignettes.
Jim and Foxey have been painting together for several decades, a rare partnership of artistry. Jim likes to describe their collaboration as one of “mischievous artful adventures”. They have created art together in Colfax, Sonoma, Grass Valley and Burning Man. Asked about this grassroots community art project, Foxey notes, “When I see a good story, I paint my impression. What I want is to be recognized by people who care about the issues I care about. This is art we make together. This is about our hearts and minds.”
The historical vignettes along South Auburn Street tell a story about life in Colfax and also the West. But Jim and Foxey did not stop with painting this mural. They have completed five other murals that are scattered throughout central Colfax, each with their own story, each represented by Colfax residents. Together, Jim and Foxey take local art to a new level with the community as part of the process.
Take a stroll or drive and find the murals that liven up a variety of buildings and walls throughout Colfax.
- Shadow’s Past
Located on South Auburn Street, face the wall, from right to left. These town vignettes tell a story of Colfax in the late Nineteenth century as a timeline. Each figure is a representation of an actual shadow cast by a Colfax resident.
At the southernmost end,
- Two Maidu Indians offer ceremonial beads and confer.
- Then come the Aristocrats, two elite posh gentlemen passing the time of day in conversation.
- The Train Conductor follows, shoeing a hobo with his lantern (the hobo here is former Colfax Mayor Josh Alpine).
- The Mason is portrayed by Colfax Cemetery Superintendent, Craig Ballenger, the nephew of the man who helped build this wall years earlier.
- Town Day features a woman with a sun parasol and her two sons headed to town for shopping.
- The Soldiers portray two soldiers saying farewell to their family going off to war.
- The Town Gossips includes Colfax Centenarian Myrtle Findley and several young girls as they stop to share the stories of the town.
- Shooting Marbles features older boys playing marbles and a younger boy with a hobby-horse hoping to get into the game. Two boys approach with marble bags to join the game.
- Calamity Jane and her horse.
- Gold Miners modeled by Jim Bowers and Karl Fischer,
- Chinese railroad worker is portrayed by Richard Yue, longtime curator of Auburn’s Joss House.
Located on the side of a metal building in the Union Pacific Railyard, townsfolk jump for joy on the side of a green metal building.
Children and adults frolic along the play yard wall by the Sierra Vista Community Center, along School Street.
- The Mercantile
Foxey recalled the old shopkeeper and painted a likeness with his helpers getting ready to restock the store while customers stroll by on Grass Valley Street.
- The Black Hole
Jim Bowers modeled this portrait of a Chinese railroad worker painted on a retaining wall on Culver Street.
- The Parishioners
The sidewall of the Church on Church Street shows three groups of parishioners, including Myrtle Findley, seated and reading to Sunday school children.
Photo credit: Pamela Biery
About the Artists
Jim Bowers studied fine art and business at American River College. Jim has several large-scale art projects to his credit, including the creation of the world’s largest clock, which put him in the Guinness Book of World records. Bowers is also active with drone search and rescue (SWARM: Search with Aerial RC Multi rotors). SWARM has more than 5k members in 50 states and 44 countries around the world.
Foxey McCleary studied at California State University, Sacramento, receiving a Masters of Art degree. She has taught art at the City College of Chicago, Colfax Elementary School and Studio 700. Watch for art classes at Sierra Vista Community Center.
Thanks go out to Amerigas and Hills Flat Lumber along with the Grace Hubley Foundation and Kim Douglass for their support of Colfax’s murals, along with the many community members who volunteered and contributed.
Special thanks to Nancy Hagman for helping to collect the history of these murals.