Colorful murals enliven White Pines Park

Written by Sean Janssen, The Union Democrat June 11, 2013 11:30 am

Artist and retired college instructor John White, of Avery, stands next to one of three mural signs he created for White Pines Park. Sean Janssen / Union Democrat, Copyright 2013.
A new mural sign chronicling the history of the old Blagen Mill is the latest colorful contribution of a local volunteer to the White Pines Park near Arnold.

The painting of the lumber mill that stood where the park has entertained visitors for the past three decades last week joined Avery resident John White’s rendering of a map featuring the park and nearby amenities. 

The map went up last year and followed White’s 2011 offering of a sign on the White Pines Lake banks opposite the park’s main entrance, with a painted scene of the lake’s wooded north shore.

White, a retired instructor at San Joaquin Delta College in Stockton and former director of the school’s Delta Center for the Arts, put a lifelong love for painting and his professional experience designing sets for plays to work in creating the trio of works inspired by the setting’s natural beauty.

He said he painted the first sign after enjoying the scenery on a fishing excursion but being disappointed when he also saw some trash left behind by his fellow anglers.

A Stockton transplant, White said he recognizes many of the park’s summer visitors come up from the Central Valley where they are used to parks being maintained by paid staff through use of public funds.

Each of his successive murals has made some sort of reference to the all-volunteer labor behind the park maintenance, its support made up entirely of private donations and/or the donation boxes set up at various points throughout the park.

“Ginny (Kafka) would have never asked for it but I did it anyway,” White said.

Kafka is the vice president of the White Pines Park Committee, the nonprofit group that operates and maintains the park. She and her husband, Bill, gave White the plywood for each of his mural signs and he did the rest. 

White notes he opted not to be “hyperrealistic” in any of his paintings, but he did devote a lot of time and study to them — hiking and photographing much of the park’s 90 acres to faithfully recreate its essence. 

Kafka said each sign is valued at about $1,000.

She confirmed she would not have asked White to add his gentle reminders of the park’s nonprofit and volunteer nature but agreed the park will take any extra hands and funds the community is willing to offer. The ranks of volunteers to do such tasks as picking up trash and cleaning restrooms dwindled to less than a handful, Kafka said, as of about two weeks ago. 

She reached out to local leaders like Calaveras County Water District Director Don Stump, Calaveras County Supervisor Merita Callaway, the Greater Arnold Business Association and local real estate agents to boost those numbers back up to about 30 people, she said.

White has been among them, bringing his weed whacking skills to the beach volleyball court among other tasks.

His latest mural directs its admirers to learn more about the mill that inhabited what is now the park grounds from 1938 to 1962 at the Sierra Nevada Logging Museum just beyond the park boundary, where Kafka is also the president.

“The people that come here don’t know that this used to be a lumber mill,” she said. “I think it’s important people know how this whole thing started.”