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Teaching Through Whale Murals

Darren Greenwood discusses his work.

Those murals of whales and dolphins that now appear on two sides of the Livermore waste-water reclamation plant are for more than decoration. They are a reminder that what happens with water quality in Livermore eventually happens at the Farallon Islands, off San Francisco, where the humpback whales and gray whales congregate.

Any drop of polluted water in Livermore needs to be treated before it is sent out through a 16-mile pipeline to the Bay, and then eventually out of the Bay and on to the Farallones and beyond, said Darren Greenwood, the man who painted the murals.

Greenwood should know what he is talking about. He is Livermore’s water resources manager. He is responsible for the operation of the waste-water treatment plant. He came up with the idea of painting the murals from his visits to Livermore schools, where he has explained the importance of water treatment.

His early practice in mural painting came from a visit to Junction Avenue Elementary School a few years ago. A teacher there asked Greenwood to paint a mural for Earth Day festivities. He not only painted the scene on the school’s wall, but also found a way to encourage the students to become involved in creating the mural. Greenwood drew some fish separately on paper, ran them through a copy machine, then gave one to each child. The children colored the fish, and the fish were pasted on the mural.

Greenwood also created a mural for Marylin Avenue School, after a teacher there heard about his work at Jackson Avenue.

The two school murals are about 40 feet wide and 10 or 12 feet tall. The waste-water plant work covers about 40 feet high by 75 feet long, on the larger of the two walls, and somewhat less on the smaller. Greenwood worked from photos and books and naturalists’ drawings of whales.

The murals are public art, so Greenwood had to obtain approval from the city’s public arts commission. He completed a painting to show how commissioners could expect the mural to look. That was three years ago, when the commission had only committee status.

It took Greenwood some time after the approval to clear his schedule so he could undertake the project. All the labor is donated. The city paid for the paint. Final touches will be put on during the first week of September.

The murals already have brought a lot of comment, said Greenwood. Adults driving by point at them. However, it’s the kids who really delight in them. When they’ve visited on school tours, children have shown lots of enthusiasm. Greenwood may try to produce more with his art, when he gets some time. He is looking into creating prints of his paintings, so they could be sold at a reasonable price. Also, he doesn’t want to part with his paintings, because he likes them too much.

Greenwood started drawing in elementary school, and studied art in high school in Modesto. However, when it came to a college choice, he rejected art school and “took the more responsible career path. I became a science geek instead, and have the whole water treatment career.”

He joined the City of Livermore 15 years ago as a source control inspector, which involved inspecting businesses, and carrying the water pollution education message to schools. Ten years ago, Greenwood started painting for his own pleasure. He started with indoor murals for his children’s homes. Then he discovered how easy it is to paint on canvas, compared to wallboard or outdoor walls. He painted ocean and seashore scenes on about a dozen canvases so far.

One such shore painting, with third-dimensional elements of a shore scene, is in his office. It’s bright and well-executed. A visitor to his office can’t help but think that with all of the lightness of color and mood in the painting, Greenwood is really spending a day at the beach,

Greenwood conducts research for his murals by going snorkeling off the Monterey coast, and also in Hawaii. His shoulder-length hair suggests a touch of the surfer, but Greenwood denies it. “That’s more the long-haired artist’s look,” he said.