By Brianna Boyd
Special to Dixon Patch
A Dixon woman has devoted countless hours over the last month to transforming a blank wall inside the Dixon May Fair’s wine pavilion into a work of art that illustrates a vital component of this region’s agriculture history.
Ethel Calvello, an avid painter for more than three decades, took on her biggest project yet last month when she agreed to design and illustrate a 26-foot by four-foot mural inside the newly expanded wine pavilion next to the May Fair’s Leber Garden Stage.
The mural, done in all acrylic paints, depicts the history and process of growing a vineyard and creating wine. The wall is divided in to five scenes that begin with a farmer examining a small grape as he overlooks his vineyard and ends with three men sampling a bottle of wine. Illustrations in between depict harvesting the vineyard, two little girls stomping the fruit and a farmer pressing his crushed grapes.
“It’s a wine tale,” Calvello said with a chuckle. “Each one is a different process.”
Calvello plans to complete the final scene and all the finishing touches on the mural by the end of the week. The artwork will be framed and covered in a protective plastic glaze, and will on display in the expanded wine pavilion when the Dixon May Fair opens for its 137th run on May 10.
Volunteers from the Friends of the Dixon May Fair have been working on the expansion since the end of January. The group wanted to see a mural inside that would not only depict history, but also educate the community, said President Donnie Huffman.
“We wanted to add something to make that room nice,” Huffman said. “If you are going to add something, you want to make sure you do it right.”
A Friends of the Dixon May Fair member told him about Calvello, whose artwork has been displayed at the Dixon Senior Center, the Lamb Festival, the Dixon May Fair, and downtown Dixon’s wine and art strolls. Huffman approached her with his idea about five weeks ago.
“To say it’s the largest project I have ever done is the understatement of the year,” said Calvello, who usually paints landscapes, water scenes, bridges or barns with oil paints. “It was flabbergasting. I wasn’t sure if I could do it because I’ve never done anything like that before.”
Since the mural will be in the wine pavilion, she thought one of the most appropriate paintings would be the story of how wine is made. She researched the subject and checked out books from the Dixon Public Library. She also met regularly with Huffman to toss around ideas. Before long, she began working on large paper drawings in her Dixon home, and brought them to the May Fair to arrange on the wall.
Painting began three weeks ago, and she has spent about six to eight hours a day at the fairgrounds since then, working alongside volunteers from the Friends of the Dixon May Fair.
It was important to Calvello to include components in the paintings, such as a black Labrador retriever, bunnies in the vineyard, a bee on a flower, a Ford truck, and a “Dad” coffee mug, to make the mural as realistic as possible.
“It makes it more personable, more natural,” she said. “I like to have things that are alive in the scene too.”
The black lab in particular has been a favorite for people who have watched Calvello work over the last several weeks. In the first painting, the farmer looking at his grape is also holding a small black lab puppy. In the second illustration, which shows a man holding a red bucket full of grapes, the puppy is chewing on a stick near his feet. In the third painting, two little girls are stomping grapes. Their backs are turned in the illustration, as they watch two red hawks flying above them. The black lab has his paws on top of the vat, trying to join the girls inside. In the fourth illustration, as the man presses the grapes, the puppy is now nearly grown, holding a stick in his mouth. In the final painting, which depicts Friends of the Dixon May Fair members Donnie Huffman, Dickie McLean and Paul Berry sampling the wine, the dog is full grown.
“I like to have a story within a story,” Calvello said. “It shows the passage of time really well. We figured the time it takes a dog to grow up is the same amount of time it takes for wine to be produced. We all have black labs too.”
It is hard for an artist to be 100 percent satisfied with how a piece turns out, Calvello said, but she said she is very pleased with the mural. Huffman too, is thrilled with the new addition in the wine pavilion.
He is excited for the community to see it when the fair opens in May. He also plans to install a blackboard next to the mural that will include a written history of how wine is created.
“It’s just gorgeous,” Huffman said. “I’ve very proud of it. It’s what we needed in there. We’re trying to educate people. There are several wineries in Solano County, and this is another way to promote that.”
Meanwhile, once the wine pavilion expansion is complete, the Friends of the Dixon May Fair plan to continue work in the building. The plan is to remodel the entire horticulture building in the next couple of years, Huffman said. New brick has already been installed between the wine room and the horticulture area, and the group is now searching for a designer to help begin the project.
The 137th annual Dixon May Fair will open on Thursday, May 10 and entertain thousands of visitors through Mother’s Day on Sunday, May 13. The fair will be open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. all four days, with a “soft” opening planned the evening of Wednesday, May 9. For more information, visit www.dixonmayfair.com.
Editor's note: Brianna is the editor of the