Paul J. Gonzalez’s charming and joyful outdoor mural at John Sutter Elementary School, Santa Clara, transformed the entire end wall of a quite ordinary classroom building into a work of art.
“Paul took our community’s feedback on what the mural would look like and made a Picasso on Sutter’s walls,” said Sutter principal Michael Fong.
The mural depicts everything to uplift kindergarten through 5th grade students returning to school — butterflies, sunflowers, kids reading with a teacher, playing ball, and working on laptops; Froggy Hollow farm, and beloved Buddy, the campus therapy dog.
At the center of the 60-foot-wide by 10- to 14-foot-high mural, against a background of mountains, is a huge, smiling frog, leaping across a rainbow.
Sutter School at 3200 Forbes Ave. is, after all, the home of an annual frog jump, an over 50-year campus tradition dating back to 1965.
Inside the gated campus, a smaller, corridor mural (8.5-foot wide by 7.5-foot high) transforms a wall by a water fountain. A big frog is jumping into a sky-blue pond bordered by grass, flowers and rocks.
Personal affirmations float on the water: I am happy. I am healthy. I am successful. I am loveable. I am caring. Sutter students recite these affirmations every morning after saying the Pledge of Allegiance.
“Our goal is to remind students of their importance at Sutter, emphasizing that they are wonderful, unique individuals who contribute so much to our special school,” said Flaviana Chelliah, PTA President (2019-2020).
To commemorate Sutter’s 60th anniversary in 2019, the PTA spearheaded the ambitious task of raising ample funds for the murals through the sale of 60th anniversary logo (designed by Gonzalez) items and other activities.
“The Sutter PTA really did a fabulous job in organizing and managing this project,” said Fong.
“I enjoy painting school murals because it gives me the opportunity to transform a school environment into an inspirational, colorful, playful attitude for kids to absorb,” said Gonzalez, whose first mural was at Westgate Mall, San Jose, in 1996.
Gonzalez uses a projector to enlarge and project onto the wall his final design, then outlines it in paint. He applies two coats (three if needed) of exterior acrylic house paint, selecting colors that won’t easily fade. He finishes with a protective, anti-graffiti coating.
Gonzalaez first started painting murals at schools to deter the graffiti. His designs reflect the unique environment and community of each school.
He painted his first Santa Clara school mural at Westwood Elementary about 15 years ago and later, at Santa Clara High School, Peterson Middle School, and Bracker, Briarwood, Don Callejón and Milliken elementary schools. Sutter’s large mural is his 198th.
Gonzalez is a versatile artist. He just completed a project for Valley Water, creating mosaic tile designs to revitalize seven interpretive benches located along creeks in Santa Clara County.
The San José native studied fine and expressive art at California Institute of the Arts (CalArts). Learn more about Gonzalez at www.Facebook.com/PaulJGonzalezArtStudios.
“Paul is truly a gifted artist … and is a joy to work with,” said Chelliah. “We love the murals.”
“They add so much color to our school and brighten the day for all who walk past them. They highlight what Sutter is all about — a joyful caring community for everyone to grow in.”
On the school PTA page, view Sutter’s 60th anniversary mural dedication video. It covers a time lapse view of artist Paul J. Gonzalez painting the larger mural and comments from teachers, SCUSD Superintendent Stella M. Kemp, and Principal Michael Fong.
In a second video, Gonzalez teaches students how to draw a frog.
“It’s okay to be messy because this is just a fun drawing,” says Gonzalez. “When you’re having fun, if you mess up, it’s okay.”