For years, the headquarters of the NRS’s Kendall-Frost Mission Bay Marsh Reserve has been a humble, utilitarian trailer. Painted a bland industrial white, the trailer all but disappeared among the condos that line Pacific Beach Drive.
But camouflage is no longer the order of the day. A vibrant mural painted on the trailer this spring by artist Celeste Byers depicts larger-than-life vignettes of marsh wildlife rendered in eye-popping color. Clapper rails peer from the walls alongside a coyote, stems of pickleweed, portraits of marsh protectors, and a pair of ducks on the wing.
The mural was made possible by Friends of Mission Bay Marshes, a volunteer organization dedicated to restoring and preserving local marshes. This past winter, Friends leader Roy Little asked artist Celeste Byers to wrap a mural over marsh headquarters.
Art for education
“The purpose was to beautify the building and to get people interested in the marsh by bringing attention to it,” Byers says. “It’s dedicated to the marsh and everything that lives in it, because of it, and around it, including the people who care for it.”
Kendall-Frost Mission Bay Marsh Reserve protects the last undisturbed fragment of wetland in Mission Bay. It was among the first group of seven reserves incorporated into the newly-established NRS in 1965. The reserve itself consists of 20 acres; an agreement permits use of the 20 acres of city-owned marshland right next door.
Byers began painting in January, visiting throughout spring to add more elements. During weeks of painting, Byers found herself embraced by the marsh’s human community. “I met really amazing and passionate people while working there. Neighbors across the street made a book for me documenting the entire process as seen from their balcony and presented it to me at the marsh unveiling,” she said.
Spending so much time at the wetland, Byers says, also gave her a sense of the rhythms of life in and around the marsh. “It made me more involved in and able to experience the marsh through its spring changes. I got to see the increase in rabbits who would come eat plants around me and keep me company as I painted!”
A new way to meet the neighbors
Completed in April, the mural bursts with color and life. The snaky neck of a great blue heron curves around a window, sculpins drift through a celadon sky, and a pink flower opens to reveal a human face. People depicted include Friends of Mission Bay Marshes leader Roy Little, Kendall-Frost Mission Bay Marsh Reserve manager Isabelle Kay, and reserve steward Larry Cozzens. All psychedelic foliage, and airborne sculpins.
The mural is also part of the Sea Walls Expeditions: Murals for Oceans project, which collaborates with artists to bring the plight of the world’s oceans to the attention of the public via large-scale murals. Through the project, Byers has painted murals in Sri Lanka and Vietnam about overfishing, plastic pollution, and fish farming, and traveled to Mexico this July to swim with whale sharks and manta rays and paint murals about them on Isla Mujeres.
Working on the Kendall-Frost Marsh mural helped Byers learn more about California wetlands and their role as nurseries for fish, stopovers for migrating birds, and refuges for rare plants and local wildlife. “Before painting the mural I had no idea the marsh was even there,” says the San Diego native. “Getting to learn about marshes and their importance made me want to help preserve and expand it.”