Student creates mural honoring essential workers

A new muralism class at San Francisco State University has already extended its reach far beyond campus, into rural Lake County. Using both his art-making skills and his business acumen learned in class last fall, a student won a scholarship to create a large mural honoring essential workers.

Emma Wakefield endured sweltering heat for a week in May to paint the Essential Worker Appreciation Mural, a Lake County Arts Council project. A few days later, she graduated from San Francisco State with a Bachelor of Arts and a minor in Education.

The mural shows a child sleeping with a stuffed animal under a large comforter with images of first responders, a teacher, a power line worker, a mail carrier, a grocery clerk and a others. Measuring 44 feet wide and 13 feet high, it spans the entire back wall of the Meals on Wheels Thrift Store in Lakeport, about 120 miles from San Francisco. It was dedicated on July 1 at a dedication ceremony.

While researching the mural, Wakefield discovered the varied and vital roles of essential workers. “It was very, very cool to see all these people who were incredibly brave during [the pandemic] and ready to go out and get on with their work and face the danger of a plague,” Wakefield said.

The mural fits with the general theme of all of Wakefield’s art: finding beauty in daily routines. “I would like my art to be something that people know they can look at and warmly feel,” she said. “I want people to feel comfortable, safe, and see the world through a new lens. Something you do every day can be beautiful.

Wakefield says she wouldn’t have thought of applying for the $8,000 scholarship if she hadn’t taken the “Murals and Public Art” course, where lecturer Daniel Velasquez (BA, ’16) aims to convey well more than artistic techniques. It also provides students with an understanding of the entrepreneurial aspects of careers in the arts, including government funding and contract negotiation.

“Assignments are focused on real-world opportunities that they seek out, discover, and create for themselves,” Velasquez said.

Photo by Benjamin Fanjoy

SF State was Wakefield’s first choice for college. She was thrilled to move to an urban area. This can be seen in his “Sci-Fi in SF” series of drawings which reimagine the cityscape and campus of the state of SF in a futuristic society.

“When I got to San Francisco, I was like, ‘Wow, there’s a building over four stories! I was like, ‘This is the future!’ Said Wakefield, who grew up in Loch Lomond in Lake County.

She jokes that the entire population of Lake County could fit in Oracle Park, the 42,000-seat home of the San Francisco Giants and SF State Commencement.

“Dating San Francisco State, as a whole, has been life changing,” she added. “I met a bunch of people from different backgrounds and cultures, talked to them and learned more about them – and saw something outside of my tiny little town.”

Learn more about SF State’s School of Art.

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