The wild world of Petaluma yard art
“When my husband and I moved to Petaluma from Brisbane in July of 2022, we found our neighbors to be welcoming, friendly folks,” said Kathleen Salvia, who now lives on the 700 block of Sixth Street.
“But we hadn’t tested them yet,” she added. “Our pet dragon had yet to make the trek.”
That “dragon,” a large metal sculpture appropriately named Rusty, was too heavy and unwieldy for the professional movers who’d transported the Salvias’ belongings from Brisbane. So she and her husband Henry rented a large pick-up truck, loaded the three separate pieces that make up the 30-foot long creature – resembling a sea serpent as much as a dragon – and hauled the mighty monster 55 miles to Petaluma.
“I had a blast driving up 101 with a rather large dragon head peering over the cab of the truck,” Salvia said, “while the rest of him crouched in the back, tail waving over the rear bumper.”
Though a bit nervous as to what their new neighbors would say once Rusty was installed, the Salvias count themselves as fortunate — the dragon was instantly embraced by the full neighborhood.
“We’ve lost count of how many people pass by on foot or pull over in their cars to take a picture or just tell us how our dragon makes them smile, which makes us smile,” she said.
It was, in fact, a young neighbor who suggested Rusty as a name for the dragon, which was made in Mexico, and purchased by the Salvias at a yard sculpture shop in Half Moon Bay. Rusty has recently moved from the front to the backyard while the Salvias complete what Kathleen calls their “mulch madness kill-the-lawn project,” but she guesses that the popular beast will soon be back in place where all can enjoy him.
“If only we could claim we had made Rusty ourselves,” Salvia said, “like so many of the talented Petaluma metal artists we’ve seen in town.”
And there does seem to be a lot of them.
As Salvia suggests, Rusty is just one of many examples of yard sculpture in Petaluma – though not all of it is as prominently displayed as the Salvias’ beloved dragon.
Richard Allen, for example, lives on a semi-remote property where the main audience for his whimsical found-object sculptures is limited to him and his occasional invited guests.
Melinda McCutcheon’s prized metal spider hangs ready to spin a web on the side of her house where, as is the case with many spiders – even large ones like hers – one may have to know it’s there to locate it.
And the antique tractor that Larry Rogers regularly decorates for various holidays is spied mainly by those rolling up his country driveway for a visit.
Other exhibitors of yard art, of course, hope that as many people as possible will see their constructions, even if they only materialize for a month out of the year.
Every October, Terry Fraser marks the coming of Dia de Los Muertos with an astonishing new exhibit he builds and erects in his yard on Fairview Court.
“I set up for our neighborhood to enjoy, for most of the month of October,” he said. “Usually I have a gathering at some point for neighbors, family and friends, but anyone that drives by will notice. I do my art for me first, and usually it takes me most of a year to produce, as I am still working as a gardener – 44 years now.”
Like the Salvias’ dragon and McCutcheon’s spider, much of the yard art exhibited in Petaluma was made by professional sculptors
Other pieces were orginally built to serve a more utilitarian purpose.
Such is the case with the large anchor in the yard of Francesca Smith, whose husband searched for 30 years to find the right one for their home.
His quest ended with a discovery in Monterey and 900-pound thought be a friend of the couple’s to have been from a 19th century sailing ship.
It is now proudly displayed at their home on Banff Way, where the anchor is decorated for various holidays, especially Halloween and Christmas.
Of course, a picture is worth so much more than words, so here are several (pictures, that is) to demonstrate what we are talking about.
From the large and unmissable to the small and slightly hidden, the lovely and the strange, may Petaluma’s yard art inspire you the next time you take a walk through town.