Roadside Attraction: Steward of the Soil

By Zoe Conrad, January 2019
The 20 x 20 foot mural, installed; its support structure was designed to keep it steady in bad weather. Photographs courtesy of Colleen Gnos

The 20 x 20 foot mural, installed; its support structure was designed to keep it steady in bad weather. Photographs courtesy of Colleen Gnos

The work in progress; Gnos intended the mural to make an impression from 40 feet away at 70 mph. Photographs courtesy of Colleen Gnos

The work in progress; Gnos intended the mural to make an impression from 40 feet away at 70 mph. Photographs courtesy of Colleen Gnos

Rising from a nondescript field along eastbound Interstate 80, halfway between the San Francisco Bay Area and Sacramento, is a freestanding 20-by-20-foot mural of a farmer kneeling next to a dog. The shaped painting on wood is by artist Colleen Gnos, a SoCal resident who grew up in nearby Dixon, a small farming community.

The monumental work, titled Stewards of the Soil, is Gnos’s salute to local farmers, known for their crops of sunflowers, watermelon and alfalfa; herds of cattle and sheep; and orchards of walnuts and almonds. The roadside work of art is a welcome sight to commuters, a pleasing visual break from the many casino billboards and shopping malls that dot the landscape.

Gnos’s goal was to bring awareness of and appreciation for the hard work of farming families, and to remind people about where their food comes from. She enlisted her family as models: her father and brother (both local farmers) and Ellie, her brother’s dog. “For me, farming goes hand-in-hand with a canine sidekick. If you have to work long hours, your dog is there enduring it with you, keeping you company, giving you an occasional laugh, distracting you from the stress,” said Gnos. “Growing up in a farming family, I was honored to create something that would pay tribute to Solano County’s farming community.”

Zoe Conrad is a Bark contributing editor.

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