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“The Cove” Viewing in Idyllwild

March 30, 2010

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By Marcia E. Gawecki

On Friday, March 12 at 7 p.m., there was a quiet showing of “The Cove,” this year’s winner of the Academy Award for Best Documentary, at the Green Café in Idyllwild.

In his e-mail prior to the show, Jeffrey Taylor wrote: “Director Louie Psihoyos took home this year’s Oscar for Best Documentary for his stunning heist-like story that is about half Jacques Cousteau and half James Bond. A ‘dream team” of activists venture to Japan to expose the secretive work of a small community of fishermen who slaughter dolphins so they can sell the meat nationally and abroad.

“As hard as it may be to envision, this sensitive and revealing film is both unflinching and mesmerizing in the activists attempt to get answers a la ‘Ocean’s Eleven’ means. Please don’t let the subject matter deter you from seeing this beautifully-crafted film, either tonight or at a later time.”

“I’m going to tell my friends to see this film,” said an elderly woman, one of 15 residents who attended the showing that night. “There’s only about five minutes of graphic killing that I had to turn away. But they have to see it because the message is important.”

Others in the audience included animal lovers, activists and teachers from Idyllwild Arts and Astro Camp.

“Documentaries aren’t like first-run feature films. They don’t come out in DVD right away. It might appear on TV sometime, but it’s going to be hard to rent or buy it, unfortunately,” he said.

Will Waddell liked "The Cove"

However, Taylor plans to show “The Cove” to Idyllwild Arts students following their Spring Break in early April. Betty Bailey, a film instructor, was excited about the possibility of showing “The Cove” to film students and perhaps the entire Idyllwild Arts student body. She didn’t see the film, but had heard good things about it from Will Waddell, an Idyllwild Arts teacher, who did.

For more than a decade on Friday evenings at his Green Café office, Taylor shows a variety of little-known films, including Film Noir, silents, comedies, westerns, horrors and documentaries like “The Cove.” After the Academy Awards last year, Taylor showed the ‘Best Documentary’ winner about a tightrope walker who scaled two skyscrapers.

“I didn’t expect anyone to show up,” Taylor admitted. “But I thought the message was important. They’re killing mammals unnecessarily.”

Those who braved the movie showing said they were surprised that it was less about a brutal portrayal of the killings, and more of a message about how it all started and what one talented filmmaker and activist did to get the message out.

Richard O’Barry, who rose to popularity with “Flipper,” the popular film about a bottle-nosed dolphin in the 1960s, said that he became an activist when “Cathy,” one of the dolphins from the show, committed suicide right in front of his eyes.

Committed suicide? How is that possible? In the movie, O’Barry said that dolphins are intelligent mammals, like us (but with bigger brains), and each breath has to be taken willingly. He thought that Cathy must’ve been depressed about being held in captivity, and killed herself by not breathing.

“She took her last breath and fell to the bottom of the pool,” O’Barry said in the film. “And a week later, I was sitting in jail after cutting dolphins loose.”

O’Barry collaborated with Psihoyos in creating “The Cove,” to get the word out of the massive dolphin slayings that are held each year from September to March in Japan. In a small cove in Taiji, fishermen herd dolphins in from the sea by forming a line of boats and making noises with metal poles. The process is known as “oikomi.”

“Dolphins are keenly sensitive to noise,” O’Barry said in the movie. “They are afraid of the noise and swim to the cove to get away from it. There, they are herded into nets and the bottle nosed dolphins like the ones in “Flipper” are sent to marine parks like “Sea World,” while the other dolphins are brutally slaughtered.

Jeffrey Taylor thought "The Cove" was important to show

“From September to March, the Taiji fishermen slaughter about 1,000 dolphins a week,” Taylor added.

Their meat is barely edible, because it has high degrees of mercury in it.  At one time, the meat was being given to Japanese school children for their lunches. Mercury poisoning can lead to many kinds of abnormalities, especially en vitro. Since the film came out, the dolphin meat in lunch program has been halted.

But the killing of the 20,000 dolphins has not.

“It’s a little more complex than you think,” said Larry, one of the attendees of “The Cove” showing, who works at Astro Camp, and is also Japanese. “Japan is a small country and doesn’t like being told by anyone what to do.”

He said that he thought “The Cove” showed an accurate portrayal, and didn’t unnecessarily blame Japan for the slaughter.

To make the documentary, the filmmakers went illegally into the cove at Taiji, because they wouldn’t have been allowed in otherwise. It’s a Japanese national park, but “Keep Out” and “No Trespassing” signs are posted everywhere. Furthermore, the fishermen are aggressive in not allowing visitors there during the dolphin-hunting season. Armed with video cameras, the fishermen try and get O’Barry and other activists arrested.

According to the film, anyone can be held in a Taiji jail for 30 days without sentencing.

“Most times, people confess to their crimes after they’ve tortured, which is legal in Japan,” O’Barry said in the movie. He is savvy enough to stay out of jail, but receives regular visits from the mayor of Taiji and the chief of police.

Psihoyos and his ‘dream team’ took high-tech video cameras illegally from the U.S. and brought them in to Taiji to depict the slaughter. They hid the cameras in rocks, on top of the hillside and underwater.

“It was important for us for people to hear the slaughter, as well as to show it,” Psihoyos said.

The crew hid the cameras at night and nearly got caught. Two deep-sea divers who could hold their breaths for 300 feet hid the audio cameras in the cove. Before, they had swum with dolphins and enjoyed the interaction.

Throughout the film, the crew interviewed Japanese politicians who insisted that the dolphin killings were humane because dolphins eat too much of the ocean’s fish, which is depleting rapidly.

“That is so absurd, that I cannot even address that comment,” said one of the representatives at the International Whaling Organization where Japan has presented its case for whaling and dolphin hunting. Dolphins and whales are not depleting the world’s fish population; we are with our massive consumption.

The Japanese government told the Taiji fishermen that they are doing a good community service by killing dolphins, because they are fish-eating parasites.

Unfortunately, “The Cove” doesn’t have a happy ending. In barely six months from now, the Taiji fishermen will continue their annual slaughter of dolphins. “They are nervous, but undeterred,” was the text at the end of the film. Fortunately, dolphin meat, with its toxic levels of mercury, is no longer being fed to Japanese schoolchildren.

What can you do? Visit “The Cove’s” web site,, or text the word, DOLPHIN, to 44144, for answers. There, they tell you to write your congressmen, donate money and get the word out to others to help stop the slaughter for good.

“I had to show the movie, even if only one person saw it,” Taylor said.

In the weeks following “The Cove” showing, he has remained diligent in getting the word out. He’s put a banner on his web site,, which generates about 1,000 hits a day. He also sends weekly e-mails to his mailing list about when “The Cove” makes the news, such as when an LA restaurant was closed for selling illegal whale meat, and when “Heroes” actress Hayden Panettiere visited Taiji recently to meet with Japanese officials. Hayden had appeared in “The Cove” documentary, as one of the surfers who peacefully demonstrated in Taiji.

“Japan would have to do something if 10,000 people descended on Taiji in September,” said a local supporter, who was ready to book her flight. “Babies and animals need our voices, because they don’t have their own. ‘Flipper’ is crying out to us right now.”

For more information, visit, or text the word DOLPHIN to 44144.

Copyright 2010 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved.

Illegal Dumping Near Idyllwild

March 30, 2010

Illegal dumping mars the scenery near Idyllwild

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The Idyllwild Arts van was parked outside a large Asian supermarket in Los Angeles. It was Spring Break, and several home-stay students were inside buying groceries. A couple of them were waiting in the van, when a man walked up to his car with a cartful of groceries. He opened up the trunk, took out a white bathroom sink and laid it on the parking lot pavement, then put in several bags of groceries.

“I was waiting for him to put the sink back in his car,” said Chia-Ti “Fion” Chen, an Interdisciplinary Arts major. “But he just smiled at me, left it there and drove away.”

A couple of small children had to step over the deserted sink on their way to their SUV.

“Look, Dad!” There’s a sink on the ground!” they exclaimed in Spanish.

Illegal dumping doesn’t just happen on the streets of LA, but along the scenic hillsides of Idyllwild. Not only is it unsightly, but also it’s considered a crime that comes with a hefty $1,000 fine, if convicted. The trouble is, unlike the Asian market scenario, the dumping perpetrators are rarely caught in the act.

Recently, an Idyllwild resident found a massive illegal dumping site along Hwy. 74 towards Idyllwild from Hemet. The woman had just stopped in the pullout by mile marker number 52 to stretch and take pictures of the panoramic view. However, when she looked down, she saw an unsightly pile of refuse. Scattered down the hillside was a washer, a queen-sized mattress, two armchairs, and a roll of carpeting, screens, an old-fashioned TV, a child’s car seat and several old tires.

“It looked like the person just drove a truck up to the edge, and chucked the items overboard,” she said. “The front-loaded washer, looked brand new and could have been sold or donated to a thrift store. Even our local dump would have taken those items.”

“It’s really sad that they prefer to deface our beautiful countryside and endanger birds and animals for their convenience,” she added.

“Sure, we’ll take an old mattress,” said Ramon, one of the guys who works for Waste Management at the Idyllwild Transfer Station. He pointed to a section set aside for large, bulky items such as mattresses, furniture and carpeting. He would have taken the washer too, he said. None of them had to be working or in good condition.

“Tires and refrigerators are the only things that I cannot take,” added Ramon. “But if they have an approved sticker on the refrigerators, they’re OK.”

He explained that refrigerators have a liquid inside that reacts to sunlight and can emit toxic chemicals. However, if a professional removes the liquid, then he can accept the refrigerator. David Sandlin in Idyllwild can perform this type of service for refrigerators, he said. Call him at (951) 659-2954.

“Some guys have taken the doors off of refrigerators, and even cut the cords, but as long as they have the chemical inside them, I cannot take them,” Ramon added.

On May 15, there will be another Idyllwild Area Household Hazardous Waste Collection Event at the County Road Yard located at 25780 Johnson Road. There, you can bring computers, old cans of paint, and other household hazardous materials to donate, without having to go to Lamb Canyon and pay a disposal fee. For more information, visit

“I would have taken the chairs, the TV and washer, but only if they were working,” said Karen, one of the owners of Earth Angels, a popular thrift store off Hwy. 243. For a small charge, they’ll even pick up those bulky items from your house in Idyllwild or Pine Cove. Call (951) 663-9044.

Riverside County has taken a stance against illegal dumping, and Code Enforcement patrols are en force everywhere, including Idyllwild. According to the Riverside County Waste Management web site,, illegal dumping can carry a fine up to $5,000 for individuals and up to $10,000 for commercial cases. They can even impound your vehicle for up to 30 days.

Illegally dumped mattress is close to Hwy. 74 up to Idyllwild

“Once people see items along the road, then they dump more there, and then it becomes a nuisance,” said the operator from the Riverside County Trash Task Force. She couldn’t cite a dollar amount for most illegal dumping cases here, because it depends upon the CHP officer’s hours.

To report illegal dumping in the Idyllwild area, call (951) 600-6140.

For proper disposal of your items, go to the Idyllwild Transfer Station located at 28100 Saunders Meadow Road. Daily operating hours are 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. It’s closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays and most holidays. Lamb Canyon is located at 16411 Lamb Canyon Road in Beaumont. It’s open from 6 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and closed Sundays. However, it’s open on the first Sunday of the month.

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Day Trip to a LA Philharmonic Concert

March 27, 2010

Mariya & Chris, LA Phil's bass principal

By Marcia E. Gawecki

“We don’t want just to listen to dead composers,” said Peter Askim, music director and composer-in-residence, Idyllwild Arts Academy. That’s why he took 10 music students to see the Los Angeles Philharmonic on March 12, which included “Five Elements,” a contemporary piece by Qigang Chen, a Chinese composer.

The piece focused on music that sounded like the five elements–water, wood, fire, earth and metal—and changed in two-minute intervals.

“You could really hear the water,” said Sebastian, an Idyllwild Arts music student from Heidelberg. “I’m not a big fan of ‘program’ music, but this one was very good.”

“It was hard to hear it as one piece,” Askim added, “but it had its moments.”

During the “Five Elements,” Askim nudged Yu-Wei “Una” Cheng, a percussionist, to pay attention to the LA Phil percussionists as they played the timpani (kettle drums) and marimbas.

To get authentic wooden and metal sounds, the percussionists relied on several wooden and metal instruments, including a xylophone, a vibraphone and two large marimbas.

Una said that the school has a marimba that she’s played before, and they’re very old instruments.

“Before they make the marimbas, they age a special kind of wood for about 50 years,” Una explained. Only two countries make them, including the U.S. and Japan. She thinks that the one at the school was made in Japan.

Besides Chen’s “Five Elements,” LA Phil’s two-hour program included works by Beethoven and Strauss. For Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Minor, Op 37, Joyce Yang, a young Korean pianist (not much older than the students) impressed the audience.

“She’s a student at Julliard now, but has a great career ahead of her,” added Askim.

According to the brochure, Yang is considered “the most gifted young pianist of her generation.” She has won numerous awards and has played with the New York Philharmonic, the Chicago Symphony, the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Hong Kong Philharmonic, among others.

Under the direction of Edo de Waart, the chief conductor and artistic director of the Hong Kong Philharmonic, Yang and the orchestra played Beethoven’s Piano Concerto to the liking of most of the students in the group.

“She played it beautifully and didn’t pound the keys. There was less ‘pomp’ and more romance in her version,” said Andrew Leeson, an instructor and Summer Program coordinator at Idyllwild Arts.

Sebastian agreed. “Beethoven is always played so heavy handed.”

Mariya-Andoniya Andonova, a bass player who was celebrating her birthday that day, came to hear Strauss’ “Ein Heldenleben” or “A Hero’s Life.” There were nine bass players in the LA Philharmonic that day, including a woman from the San Diego Symphony, whom Askim knew.

“They always make me play ‘A Hero’s Life’ during my auditions,” said Mariya, a senior from Bulgaria, who is applying to colleges. “It’s really a difficult piece to play.”

Askim, who is also a bass player, agreed that the bass part of “A Hero’s Life” was challenging, yet good to watch professionals play it. That’s why he encouraged Mariya and Michael Minor, another bass student at Idyllwild Arts, to attend the show.

“No one else will notice (the bass part) because everyone else is playing, but you’ll see Mariya give it her full attention,” Askim teased.

Martin Chalifour, principal violinist, who had solos during “A Hero’s Life,” Chris Hanulik, principal bassist, and Carrie Dennis, principal violist, chatted with the students outside Disney Hall afterwards. Martin and Carrie had recently played with the Idyllwild Arts Academy Orchestra, and Chris is Mariya’s bass instructor.

Connor Merritt, an Idyllwild Arts trombonist, was happy to attend the event. “It’s great to get away from Idyllwild for the day and hear some New Age music,” he said.

Copyright 2010 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved.

Six IA Spotlight Semi-finalists

March 13, 2010

Li-An Tsai, an IA semi-finalist

By Marcia E. Gawecki

Out of the thousands of Southern California students who entered the Music Center Spotlight Awards this year, six Idyllwild Arts students have made it to the semifinals. Besides an opportunity to win thousands in scholarship money, Spotlight winners are also invited to summer music festivals, meet influential people and perform before large audiences. In short, it’s a big deal.

For more than two decades, the Spotlight Awards have been providing meaningful recognition, encouragement and advancement for high school students studying music and visual arts. The categories include: ballet, non-classical dance, classical voice, non-classical voice, classical instrumental, jazz instrumental, photography and two-dimensional art.

The six Idyllwild Arts semi-finalists for 2010 include: Martin Peh, Ru Guo “William” Wang and Shen Liu, classical instrumental; Caleb Hensinger, jazz instrumental; Kayla Tuggle, non-classical dance; and Li-An Tsai, for two-dimensional art. Some, like the dancers were eliminated earlier, while the four music students will find out if they made the finals today, Saturday, March 13.

Caleb Hensinger, jazz semi-finalist

“I’m happy, but it’s hard when you’re up against your best friends,” said Martin Peh, who plays the violin. His friends, William and Shen, both play the clarinet, and are just as stoic.

When William was congratulated recently, he smiled and looked down. “He’s happy, but he’s holding back his emotions,” said his girlfriend, Ai-Ching Huang, an Idyllwild Arts violist.

Last year, two Idyllwild Arts students made it to the Spotlight Finals: Tian-Peng “Timmy” Yu, a sophomore pianist, who won his classical instrumental category and Samuel Chan, a junior, who took second place in classical voice.

Timmy, who won his category, agreed that it could be nerve wrecking. “When they announced the two finalists (from the classical instrumental category) last year, they put us all in the same room,” he said. “Everyone was looking at me. It was kind of awkward.”

“But when you’re one of the two finalists, you’re already won,” Timmy added. For first place in the classical instrumental, he earned a $5,000 scholarship, while Samuel got a $4,000 scholarship. They both have been invited to attend the Aspen Summer Music Program this summer on scholarship.

Timmy Yu beams as Spotlight Winner 2009

Timmy said it was exciting to be a finalist. “A Hollywood director takes a video of you, and you get to talk to the media,” he said.

At last year’s Spotlight Awards at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in LA, many Idyllwild Arts students and faculty showed up to support Timmy and Samuel. The short videos depicted their life at Idyllwild Arts with interviews with their music teachers, family and friends. It’s a memento they will treasure for a lifetime, Timmy said, and was later posted on You Tube for all to see.

After the videos were shown, each of the finalists got to perform before the large audience at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

“I can’t wait to find out who made the finals this year,” said Samuel. “I want to pass on the torch.”

There were no Idyllwild Arts students in Sam’s classical voice category, but one visual artist made it to the Spotlight semi-finals this year, Li-An Tsai. She said her small watercolor depicts two people listening to music, she said.

When she received her congratulatory letter this year, Li-An didn’t celebrate for at least two hours. She had entered the Spotlight Awards last year and got a rejection letter. She was sure it was the same thing, but she waited to show her roommate, Geneva Winters, just to be sure.

“She knows English better than I do, and she said that I made it,” Li-An said. By making the semi-finals, Li-An also received $500 towards summer arts classes.

As part of the Spotlight semi-finals process, Li-An was invited to the Bergamot Station Arts Center in Santa Monica with the other finalists from the 2-D art and photography categories on March 6. For two hours, she and her IA friend, Sana Liu, toured four galleries, and talked about art with their sponsor.

“He asked us questions like, ‘What message do you want others to walk away with?’” Li-An said. “It makes you think about what you want your art to say to people.”

Li-An & Sana Touring Galleries

On March 20, Li-An will know if she made the Spotlight Finals at a gala the Armory Center for the Arts in Pasadena, in which they’ll showcase all of the arts student’s entries.

“When I told my mom that I made it to the Spotlight Semi-finals, she said, ‘Oh good!’” added Li-An. “I don’t think she knows what an honor it is yet.”

For more information on the Music Center Spotlight Awards, visit

Copyright 2010 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved.

Student’s Work at Artisans Gallery

March 6, 2010

Robert Towne Portrait by CaleighIdyllwild Arts student Caleigh Thompson Birrell is going to New York University for art next year, but before she goes, she’ll be getting a real life gallery experience.

Her work was recommended by Kirsten Cunio, a staff nurse at Idyllwild Arts, who knew Amanda and Steve Taylor from Artisans Gallery in Oakwood Village.

“I liked Amanda right away, and I’m thrilled that she’s willing to give me a show of my work in April,” Caleigh said.

“Her work is great, very strong, and we’re happy to have her in our gallery,” Amanda said. Artisans Gallery features paintings, pottery, fiber art, sculptures, photography, and jewelry of mostly local artists. Both Amanda and her husband, Steve, are artists. Amanda creates jewelry, while Steve carves from Manzanita wood.

After Kristian’s recommendations, Caleigh brought in her portfolio to show the variety of her work over the years at Idyllwild Arts. Yet, it wasn’t until she brought in the two acrylic and mixed media paintings that Amanda could see the depth of her work.

Immediately, she placed the portrait of “Robert Towne” on the fireplace mantle, a place of honor.

“It’s the first thing that people see when they enter the gallery,” Amanda said. “Besides, when it’s cold, they want to get warm by the fire.”

The 20 x 30 inch portrait of “Robert Towne” is a mixed media painting that appears to have writing mixed into the paint.

“See how she blends the oranges and reds into the painting,” Amanda pointed out. “That’s technique that adds a lot of warmth to an otherwise black and white painting.”

Untitled PortraitThe other portrait, which is untitled, depicts a man looking down in a somber mood.

“Caleigh said that she did that one from out of her head,” Amanda explained. “It’s not of any particular person, while Robert Towne was a writer, I think she said.”

Caleigh said that she liked the work in Artisans Gallery. It’s the first gallery she’s shown in besides the Parks Exhibition Center on campus.

Artisans will give her a one-woman show in April. The date has yet to be determined, but Caleigh said that she has enough pieces to show (generally 10-15 pieces). She’s not sure if the series is going to be all male portraits, or if her boyfriend, Nate Levonson, an Idyllwild Arts music student, is going to be one of the subjects of a painting.

“People’s reaction to Caleigh’s work has been positive,” Amanda added. “They really like her work.”

Visit Artisans Gallery in the Oakwood Village at 54425 North Circle Drive, call (951) 659-9091, or visit

Next Up: Shakers

March 5, 2010

Howard Shangraw had a dilemma. He had to cast his next Idyllwild Arts student production, but it had to have a large number of female roles. He thought about “The Heidi Chronicles,” an award-winning Wendy Wasserman play about feminism, but the dialog was a little too “racy” for high school students.

“I can get away with a lot, but not that much,” Howard said with a smile.

The theater students had their own opinions. (After each play, Howard waits until the last minute to announce the next one, building up interest and anticipation.)

“The next musical is going to be ‘The Odd Couple’ with an all-female cast. I’m sure of it,” several students said.

The next play is about, well, Shakers.

“’As it is in Heaven’ is about religious persecution and a psychological cross section of humanity that is shrouded in simple purity,” Howard said.

According to various web sites, Shakers were a religious group that came from England in 1747. They believed that people could find God within themselves and not through rituals or clergy. They worshipped in plain meetinghouses where they marched, danced, sang, twitched and shouted. Many who didn’t understand their practices, considered them “heretics.”

“As it is in Heaven,” written by Arlene Hutton in 2006, explores generational conflict through the eyes of nine women in a Shaker village in Kentucky. Set in 1838, the play celebrates the music and dance traditions of Shakers, the “Society of Believers.” When three newcomers start to see visions, several of the older women, who haven’t seen any, begin to question their own devotions.

“You don’t know much about Shakers because they believed in strict celibacy. Since they didn’t procreate, they all died out,” Howard said.

Most people don’t know the difference between Quakers, Shakers, and Mennonites, Howard added. The play will showcase Shaker differences. For example, the men and women lived separately. “They ate and slept in different houses, and the only time they mingled was during service when they’d ‘shake’ away their lust,” he said.

He added that many of the songs in the play will be sung ‘acapella,” or without much music accompaniment. “They will be sung ‘like they were meant to be,’” he said.

For the music accompaniment, Howard asked several of the Idyllwild Arts music students to play in a small makeshift orchestra. Una Cheng, who plays percussion, was one of about 15 who played for the school’s musical last year.

“Howard gave us the music about a month before the musical began,” Una explained. As a percussionist, she didn’t have many solos, but had to pay attention to the play’s conductor. “It was fun, and Howard gave us pizza,” Una added.

Howard added that getting costumes for the musical would not be a problem because they plan to make most of them. “You’ve heard of the ‘Shaker’ bonnet, right?” he asked. Well, Shaker furniture, with its simple lines, has also come back into fashion with home decorators.

For more information about “As it is in Heaven,” the next Idyllwild Arts musical about Shakers, contact Howard at (951) 659-2171, ext. 2200, or visit

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Hat’s Off to an Idyllwild Arist

March 2, 2010

Darwin created Wooley's hat sculpture

Art is everywhere in Idyllwild, and some appear in places that you’d least expect–such as on top of a shopping mall roof and covering ugly old propane tanks. Yet, it doesn’t seem so unusual when you’d meet local artist T.J. Darwin.

He’s a fine artist, educated at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, but has lived and worked in Idyllwild for years. He sees the big picture, thinks like a marketer, and uses his talents to help local businesses, such as Wooley’s, Fairway Market and Dore’s Mountain Metals.

What’s most important for Wooley’s is that Darwin wears hats.

“Wooley’s sells hats, but not a lot of people knew that,” said Darwin. “So I convinced the owner to put a hat on the roof.”

It was more than just any old hat, mind, you, but a very large one, about the size of a Mini Cooper. It’s made of wood and resin and measures 8 feet, by 6 feet by 4.3 feet. Despite its size, it’s lightweight enough to sit on top of the shopping mall roof.

Located in the Village Centre, Wooley’s sells wool and sheepskin products, including hats, gloves, coats and rugs. The owner gave Darwin “carte blanche” on the style, shape and size of hat that he wanted create. He used one of his own hats as inspiration.

“The owner was horrified at first, because she thought that the hat would fall through the roof,” Darwin of Wooley’s owner’s reaction. “But now she loves it.”

The dark brown hat resembles a lot of Western-style hats on sale in the store. Think of the hats from the popular movies, “The Outlaw Josey Wales,” and “Indiana Jones.”

Darwin said that it took him about two months to create the hat in his friend Don Teele’s garage.

“I thought he’d never get it out of there,” Don said.

Darwin and Teale with oversized hat

It has about 12 coats of exterior latex paint on it and oil-based polyurethane coating on top, explained Darwin. The Wooley’s hat needs to withstand Idyllwild’s harsh temperatures, including snow, wind and rain.

Darwin, Don and two other friends hoisted the oversized hat onto Wooley’s roof from the back of a pickup truck. Luckily, it didn’t incur any damage, but Darwin added one more coat of paint, just to be sure.

“Once we got it up, the hat looked good on the roof, but it needed something more,” Darwin said. So he added a white “Wooley’s” logo to the front of the hat, and an Idyllwild landscape sign behind it.

“Once the logo was on the hat, and we added the backdrop, it took everything to the next level,” said Darwin. “It worked.”

The backdrop sign, which features Idyllwild nature scenes and animals, took Darwin another month to complete. It features Lilly Rock, Tahquitz Peak, a deer, mountain lion and eagle, and a collection of rocks from Anza. The composite image is similar to the ones he’s created on propane tanks.

“The propane tank that I painted for Fairway Market took me one week,” Darwin explained. “And the last propane tank that I did (for an Idyllwild resident) only took 10 hours.”

Darwin created the images on the Fairway Market propane tank for free.

“I had to drum up some business,” he said. “People needed to see up close what I could do with propane tanks.”

Although necessary, propane tanks can be unsightly white, oblong obtrusions in an otherwise beautiful landscape. Instead of constructing a fence around these tanks, Darwin gives Idyllwild homeowners an option: paint.

Yet painting on a capsule-shaped metal tank is not the same as painting on a flat canvas. Darwin used a projector at night to project his own photographs of Lilly Rock and Tahquitz Peak onto the tank.

“Some people may think that using a projector is ‘cheating’ or ‘tracing,’ like you did in grade school, but with the distortion of the tank, it’s necessary,” Darwin explained. “It gives me a framework to work from and saves a lot of time.”

With the framed Idyllwild backdrop, the oversized hat looked like a piece of art. “But it’s been great for drumming up business for Wooley’s,” he said.

Darwin works from a small studio in the back of the Village Lane (near the Greek Restaurant).