Artists with Sacramento roots will make W-X freeway mural grow

A pair of muralists say their first memories of growing up in Sacramento involve painting in their backyards and roaming farmers markets.

Now Sofia Lacin, 29, and Hennessy Christophel, 28, have taken on a 70,000-square-foot project that will incorporate both of those fond recollections.

The duo hope to transform the underside of the W-X freeway, which has served as the ceiling of the Sunday Sacramento central farmers market since the market opened in 1980, into a colorful canopy.

Plans for the project, dubbed Bright Underbelly, were released last week. While this morning Sacramentans will mill through produce stands under a dreary concrete bridge, later this season they can expect color to surround them as the artistic team spreads paint for a giant mural.

Project manager Tre Borden, 29, conceived of the idea when he saw a mural painted on a pedestrian bridge while traveling in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Borden grew up in Sacramento and has been a proponent of public art projects since he moved back to the city. Three years after seeing the bridge, he began collaborating with Lacin and Christophel on the farmers market idea.

The two artists met at Mira Loma High School, and when they returned to Sacramento after college, they began painting public murals together – including a 14,000-square-foot abstract mural on a water tower in Davis, their largest project to date.

During the workweek, the W-X freeway between Sixth and Eighth streets serves as a parking lot for state employees. Come Sunday, the asphalt plot turns into the region’s biggest farmers market and one of the four largest in the state, according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture. Organizers estimate that it draws 10,000 people each week in the bountiful summer months.

What makes the spot successful for a farmers market – its central location and protection from the weather – also makes it ideal for a mural, Lacin said.

“That area, for one, is a huge blank canvas,” Christophel said. “There is so much life that the farmers market brings to that freeway underpass. We want to create a feeling of an overall magical forest.”

The pair plan to paint a nature scene by transforming the concrete pillars into tree trunks, the leaves of which will spread to the underside of the freeway. The painters will combine a broad thematic scene of changing seasons with intricate elements such as bees and migrating geese.

“We’ll bring color to the pillars that sort of surround you,” Christophel said. “It is as if you are standing amongst a bunch of trees and looking up.”

The team reached out to the city, the Sacramento central farmers market and California Department of Transportation for cooperation and approval of the project in April and began reaching out to corporations, foundations and individuals for donations.

The anticipated cost of labor, materials, permitting, maintenance and follow-up inspections is about $150,000.

Borden said Caltrans, which has the final say on whether the mural will be allowed, has been receptive and worked with him and the painters to develop a design that would not compromise freeway maintenance.

About one-third of the money the mural collaborators need has already been donated. The California Endowment, a private health foundation, has agreed to match up to $50,000 of other donations. Townsend, Raimundo, Besler & Usher, a Sacramento political consulting firm, has donated $5,000.

The group hopes to gather enough funding and get the needed permits from Caltrans by the end of summer. The artists expect the painting itself will take a few months to complete.

Although this project is far larger than anything Lacin and Christophel have completed, the two plan to handle it themselves, Lacin said.

Their skills complement each other, and they will work together to paint the overhead parts with one of them operating a scissor lift while the other one paints, Christophel said.

“We almost don’t need to communicate,” Lacin said. “When we’re actually painting, we kind of read the other one’s mind.”

Together with Borden, the artists hope to inspire other individuals to take on similar projects.

“Sacramento is a place where if you are entrepreneurial and know how to hustle, you can just do stuff,” Borden said. “You have this gigantic and wonderful market under this dank freeway space, and it ends up being a blank canvas for the largest mural in the region.”