Dragonfly painting by Malakai Schindel

"Dragonfly" painting by
Malakai Schindel

After High school I hadn’t a very clear idea of where I was going in my life. Before my first mural job I had gone for a semester to Cal Arts in Los Angeles. I had some amazing instructors there including Michael Miller who was a great influence on my development as a young painter. When I came back to Willits, I painted the Saint Francis mural and then moved to Hawaii.


I moved to the island of Maui and really enjoyed living there. I showed and sold a few pieces of art in Lahaina but at the time it was such a hassle to keep canvases from molding in the jungle that I wasn’t able to paint as much as I wanted to. I stayed for seven months, working all the time at my bed and breakfast job, and mostly fed my soul with the beauty of the place—taking time to swim in the ocean, jump off waterfalls and just take in the beauty. This has had an incredibly profound effect on the colors of my art since then.


I moved back to the mainland—to Willits again—and then went to Portugal to follow a romance. There I worked mostly as a street musician and rented a little room in a hotel. I enjoyed a very bohemian life there, played with a lot of amazing musicians and hung out with street artists. I took in the culture and schooled myself in survival. Things didn’t work out with the girl, so I ended up traveling across Europe. I first spent time in Spain—mostly in Barcelona—then went to France, visited the museums I had been wanting to see—the Louvre, Picasso museums, then in Amsterdam and Holland—the Van Gogh museums, and several more museums in London. However, I only scratched the surface and saw about a quarter of what I wanted to see. I finished my trip in Europe in the United Kingdom with a very windswept and snowy, sleeting, rain-filled day at Stonehenge—just myself and my traveling partner on the double-decker bus to Stonehenge. No one else was there, because the wind was lashing and the snow was cutting your face—a perfect end to quite an amazing year-long trip.

16’ x 60’
Episcopal Church, Willits, California

I started selling pieces at around twelve or thirteen—little postcards and stuff for few dollars but soon after high school I got my first big art commission from the Episcopal Church. I was hired to paint a mural of Saint Francis in the Redwoods on the side of the church. It was 60 feet long by 14 feet tall and was the largest thing I had ever undertaken. It took me three months to complete. It was an amazing opportunity to share the gift I have pent up most of the time and that requires large walls to get out. Small canvases can only contain a small amount of the expression. As an extroverted expresser, I have a lot to get out. Not that I don’t enjoy the detailed pieces and going deep with paintings but I really enjoy that hugeness of painting outdoors.

“SAINT FRANCIS IN THE REDWOODS”  - Mural by Malakai Schindel
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There is a new church now, so the mural with be the backdrop to a small shaded garden with stepping stones—a private spiritual nook. The mural is about a being who came to earth with a tremendous compassion and light and giving energy. The expression on the face is an expression and love and adoration and trust in the divine—something bigger. It is an awesome piece.

“Diversity Dragon”
4’ x 32’
Willits High School Plaza

Location: Willits High School. Group: Students Taking Action Now for Diversity (STAND) Project: Diversity in Tolerance Mural. This mural has the Earth in the center with two dragons snaking away from the Earth. Each of the scales of the dragons contains a symbol of free expression. Each student was given several scales to paint whatever they wanted. It has religious symbols, poems and drawings—each scale a different color. This mural contains the idea, “from many, one.”

Mural "Diversity Dragon"
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12 Murals
5’ x 4’
California Western Railroad Skunk Train, Willits Depot, Commercial Street

At the Skunk Train depot, I installed twelve small panels (5’ x 4’) depicting scenes along the skunk train, trestles with trains, the conductor, the Train Singer, various engines, some of the wildlife along the line. They go all the way around the old depot building.

When I returned to Willits after Hawaii, I got a job working with the County of Mendocino Department of Public Health—The Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention Program (AODP) —working with at-risk kids in the area coordinating mural projects. I did a number of murals in the county and worked with over 500 students in the course of four years. Our project was cut by the state after the fourth year. The county would set me up with a group of students and give us a theme. Within that theme, I would get a strong sense of what kind of images the students wanted to see in their mural. I took notes on what the theme evoked for the students and assimilated them into a visual—drawing them out in a very random way—covering all the individual elements. Then the students would decide what to keep and eliminate and more of the overall composition and layout. Everyone was part of the entire process. Then we worked on a wall or on panels and I drew out what we had on our plan either in chalk or charcoal. Then I mixed the colors and set up the student with the brush and had them stay within the lines in a paint by numbers style. I took them through each wave of detail until the picture was finished. Then I went over the whole thing and did a layer of detail to bring the whole composition together. We completed one or two projects a year.

“Diversity in our Communities”
8’ x 32’
E. Church at State Street, Ukiah

Location: South face of the Church street building on the east side of State Street. The theme was “Diversity in our Communities.” It was a very inclusive piece showing people of all races and religions and genders—cohesively existing underneath one very large sun at the center of the piece. At the time it was Barry’s Fun Center. I think it is a model shop now.

Mural “Diversity in our Communities” by Malakai Schindel
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"Cesar Chavez"
20’ x 8’
Ukiah Community Center

Location: The south facing wall of the Ukiah Community Center (viewed from the parking lot that is set back from North State Street). This project was sponsored by the “Hunger Task Force” for the Cesar Chavez Day of Service and Learning. I coordinated this mural with over 300 students—mostly Hispanic—from the Ukiah School District. They came in groups of fifteen and I would take each group through all the steps of acrylic painting and give them a spot on the mural to paint in. There were so many students that I ended up creating a border around the piece where most of the students signed their name. All the names formed such a multi-colored pattern that it was hard to distinguish what it was. As you get up close you can see these hundreds of names written over each other making layers of color and little pictures.

I had an assistant on that project from the Community Center—as part of a work program for him. I taught him how to paint—his name was Jesus—and his father worked in the grape fields as a pesticide sprayer. I got to learn about the disgraceful practice of using people to spray hard core pesticides—people who were considered by the companies that hired them as less than human. The mural was about Cesar Chavez, the union and the fight of the UFW (United Farm Workers) to bring awareness of the farming situation in California especially—which is where a lot of Mexicans and sometimes illegal immigrants are working in slave conditions so we can have our opulent tables of fruit. We don’t stop to consider that these people are human and deserve rights, medical services and that they are holding things together for the rest of us. Cesar Chavez was a very powerful and determined leader of that community. He is one of the unsung heroes, a character that we tend to sweep under the rug. (missing a minute or so of commentary here) He led thousands of people on marches and is responsible for a lot of social reform.

Mural "Cesar Chavez"
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There is plenty of room for more Cesar Chavezes in this world. In the hope of bringing his message to over 300 Hispanic students, maybe one or two of them will catch the fire and realize that the fight is not over. Murals are a powerful tool for bringing social awareness to people. Because of my connection to the county, and the thread through Public Health to the Hunger Task Force, my name was passed to them. This project was paid for by The United Way.

“Reflections of Life”
8’ x 8'
Willits Café

Old Willits Café building on Main Street/Hwy 101, on the west side just south of the 101 Drive Inn (north of Commercial Street across them the Wild West Express). Next, I got a job with the County working at the San Hedron High School, an alternative high school here in Willits. I coordinated a mural project with about 14 students there—a memorial piece for a friend of theirs who had been killed in a car accident—a young woman from their class. I had a little part in the design of the mural but mostly I based the mural on a drawing that was done by one of the girls in the group. Everyone felt it was a worthy drawing for making a mural around. It was an interpretation of their friend looking in a mirror. You see her from behind and she is looking out at you from the mirror. It is a very colorful mural on the old Willits Café, an 8’ x 8’ mural. It has recently been stolen. (no photo)

8’ x 8’
Willits Community Court School

I worked with the Court Community School on Commercial Street to coordinate a mural for Ravenswood Community School. This is a piece with a raven in the center with an American flag background and a bit of Mendocino landscape and some free expression by the kids around the piece.

“One Drum”
8’ x 20'
Round Valley Elementary/Middle School admin building

This 20’ x 8’ mural with a large palo drum in the center, shows paintings of local musicians all around — as interpreted from photographs brought by the students. The piece is called “One Drum” and is based on various musicians who represent the local color. They are playing together using various instruments—drums, clickers, banjos, fiddles . . . against the backdrop of the Covelo skyline and the mountains to the east.

Mural "One Drum" by Malakai Schindel
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“Local Color”
8’ x 12’
Round Valley Elementary/Middle School Admin building

The second piece at the school is on the east face of the Covelo elementary school administration office. This is an inclusive landscape showing the local animals with a fire in the center. Coyotes gather around the fire, singing, with other local animals all around—bobcats, cougars, bears, porcupines, otters . . . . The smoke goes into the sky where it turns into a dream catcher made out of stars. A great eagle enfolds the whole piece. It is a very beautiful. I had a group of eight or nine elementary school students help me. They did a great job.

Mural "Local Color"
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“Healthy Rural Community Living”
8’ x 16’
Department of Public Health Administration Building
outside entrance, Dora Street at Observatory, Ukiah

This solo piece shows a very beautiful landscape scene with a water pool with lotus flowers in the foreground and people hanging around the pool, enjoying the coolness, the trees and shade. There is an old man playing guitar, people playing soccer, vineyards off in the distance and the Pacific Ocean.

“Healthy Rural Community Living” Mural by Malakai Schindel
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“Ocean Sunset”
4’ x 8’
Department of Public Health Administration Building
Lobby for Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention Programs (AODP)
Dora Street at Observatory, Ukiah

This 8’ x 4’ panel shows a sunset landscape over Mendocino with a whales tail in the water.

All my work is done as an independent contractor. Our state program was cut by the current governor. It was decided that it wasn’t important to fund outreach programs for distressed youth. This was a big blow. The state went from receiving hundreds of millions of dollars for these projects (created by bonds) to 32 million dollars and finally was cut back to one million dollars for the whole state. Our goal was to create 20 public murals in a matter of two years and we did.

“Mendocino County”
12’ x 150’
South-facing wall of JD Redhouse Mercantile
(old Country Mall across from Washington Mutual Bank)
Main Street/Hwy 101, Willits

Mercantile Mural
This mural can be seen in enlarged sections by clicking on 8 segments of the image

In September 2007, I completed a 150 foot long by 12 foot tall mural depicting the entire panorama of Mendocino County, starting from the ocean and going all the way to the eastern mountains of San Hedron with the sunrise. My largest piece to date, it was painted from a scissor-lift over a 5-week period during the hottest summer recorded in Willits. My painting schedule went from 6:30 to 11:00 am and 5:00 pm until dark.

JD Redhouse Mercantile Project in progress 1
JD Redhouse Mercantile Project in progress 2
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JD Redhouse Mercantile Project in progress 3