WATSONVILLE—A year’s worth of work came to fruition on Oct. 1 as the third and largest mosaic that is part of the ongoing Watsonville Brillante project was installed at the Civic Plaza Parking Garage.
The piece, “Hermanita,” was designed by Juan Fuentes, a graduate of Watsonville High School. It was assembled at the Muzzio Mosaics Art Center in downtown Watsonville by a team of mostly volunteers.
“I feel exhilarated,” said Kathleen Crocetti, who heads up the project through her nonprofit Community Arts Empowerment. “When you get to work on something that has so much meaning for the community … and working with the community doing it … it’s amazing.”
The first two murals, “Strawberry Picker” and “Apple Picker” were completed and installed last year with the help of adult and student volunteers. “Hermanita” depicts the side-profile of an Indigenous woman, who Crocetti called “emblematic of the struggle of both women’s rights and cultural rights.”
Fuentes, who now works out of his studio, Pajaro Editions, in San Francisco, said it was “amazing” seeing the mosaic completed and installed.
“The piece is different, a bit more lively, and adds a totally different flare,” he said. “Before we were pretty much working with black and white … with some variations of texture, because of the tiles. [Kathleen] asked me if we should add more color to this one, and I said, ‘Let’s do it.’”
The process has been different this time around, Crocetti said, as students were in quarantine for most of the last year, and the school district didn’t require community service credit hours.
But with schools reopening, young people have started coming in again. They helped finish the top section of the mosaic, and have already started working on the third and final piece, “The Flower Grower,” which is slated to be installed in about six months.
“When the entire thing is done, it’s going to be amazing,” Fuentes said. “I hope people take something from it. The pieces each tell a little story, have something to say.”
Crocetti said that she and board president George Ow are currently running a campaign to bring on 10 separate donors to give $25,000 each to pay youth interns.
“We always feed people when they volunteer,” Crocetti said. “But some who come here really love the work, and are really dedicated. I want to be able to pay them.”
Melissa Facundo, a senior at Watsonville High School, was one of the first youth volunteers to be chosen as an intern. She had worked with Community Arts Empowerment for a while before Covid, and said was eager to come back.
“Kathleen offered the internship … and I thought it would be good to work here, and save money for college,” she said. “I like it because it’s about giving something back to the community.”
Facundo said she feels proud to be part of creating the mosaics.
“You look up and see them and think, ‘wow, I helped make that,’” she said.
Also helping complete “Hermanita” were local employees, including a group from Fireclay Tile in Aromas, who donated tiles for the project. Their group showed up at Muzzio for team-building exercises.
“Their office workers … they had been working from home for a year,” Crocetti said. “It’s great because you’re placing tiles, but you’re also talking to each other. Which is a super nice lead-in for them to get back to work.”
In addition, twice a week this summer Crocetti took her mobile mosaic-making studio out into the public, including to homeless shelters.
“What’s so great about this project is that these mosaics are not just mine,” Fuentes said. “They don’t belong to me. So many people have worked on them. That’s the beauty of the project.”
Crocetti highlighted the importance of elevating farmworkers in an agricultural city like Watsonville, which is so dependent on the industry.
“But I also believe they are the heart and soul of our community,” she said. “We want to create new archetypes, new icons for kids to look at and say ‘Wow, my uncle, my dad, my mom … They are important. Look, that could be them up there.’”
Fuentes, who was born in New Mexico but grew up in the Pajaro Valley, said he never thought this would happen in his hometown.
“I’m totally in heaven,” he said. “I’m really happy that someone is bold enough to take on this sort of project. I’m just so happy for Watsonville.”
For information about Watsonville Brillante visit communityartsempowerment.org.