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Local artist adorns piano with ‘Faces of Covid’

In the summer of 2016, artist-painted river-themed pianos started showing up in Downtown Petaluma. By the end of 2017, over 20 instruments graced sidewalks and merchant showroom windows, much to the enjoyment of the local artists who painted them and to the sheer delight of the passing pedestrians who played them.

The brain-child of John Maher, aka Petaluma Pete, each instrument carried the message of how our Downtown river trestle was in desperate need of restoration. To that end, Maher collaborated with “Save The Trestle” advocate Christopher Stevick and created the “Petaluma River Promenade” nonprofit while continuing to collect pianos, recruit artists and distribute more painted instruments around town. By the summer of 2019, over 20 pianos were in circulation and the program was making news throughout the Bay Area. Then the pandemic hit.

“Playing and sharing these pianos with one another, the very activity that made them so popular, now represented the worst possible scenario during a pandemic.” Maher lamented. “We spent the better part March 2020 hauling them over to the Small Craft Center Float House warehouse for safe keeping until further notice.”

That would be the end of this story if it were not for artist and PEP Housing director Mary Stompe who submitted a piano themed “The Faces of Covid,” incorporating 100 tiny 3-dimensional mask-covered faces that she molded from poly-clay and painted by hand. The piano is a huge 800-pound upright grand that Maher rescued from the landfill in an effort to give it a few more years of providing joy before Covid shut everything down.

“PEP Housing is a nonprofit group dedicated to providing limited-income seniors access to affordable housing and, ultimately, safety and Mary nailed that.” said Maher. “Her piano art is dark but not as dark as Covid. It’s also light-hearted while reminding everyone to take the pandemic seriously enough to remain safe, especially for low-income seniors who are most at risk.”

Inspired by this work of art, the Petaluma River Promenade nonprofit produced the following video.

If you are a downtown merchant who would like to display this piano in you showroom window, text the Petaluma River Promenade at 707-775-5041.

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