The winter visitors calling a local RV park home have left their mark this year.
For the last two winters, the residents of Wagons West Adult Travel Trailer Association have labored over a 40-foot tile mural that now decorates a wall in the pool area. In February, they finished it.
Vonna Marcus, a South Dakota native who winters in Tucson, spearheaded the tile-making project, teaching others how to cut, glaze and lay tiles on the 60-foot wall.
The mural depicts a rambling garden path with seniors relaxing — sunbathing, golfing, biking and gardening — around a stanza of a poem by Dorothy Frances Gurney about life in a garden. The mural was meant to showcase the active lifestyle of the 55-and-older crowd living at the RV co-op.
Only two of the cartoons depict actual people — well-loved residents who have since died.
“It’s truly a community project of everybody helping,” said Marcus, 60.
She counts about 90 helpers — a mix of park residents and visitors, 10-year-old grandkids and seniors in their 80s. The park has more than 250 residents, said Anna Green, the park manager.
“A lot of them will say, ‘I didn’t do that much. ....’” Marcus said. “Well, most people didn’t do very much. There were a few of them that did a lot, but we got a big project done by a lot of people not doing very much.”
The mural wasn’t the park’s first go at a tile project. In fall 2013, a redesign of the front entrance created a space for a concrete ‘S’ bench that needed some color.
Marcus herself is relatively new to tile-making — her diverse background includes work in horticulture, prisons and women’s ministry. She learned to make tiles when her sister began exploring the art form as a hobby.
Marcus bought a small kiln and started experimenting about four years ago with a Little Free Library in her South Dakota front yard.
She loved DIY tile projects.
And so did Wagons West.
To tile the bench, Marcus got to work teaching her neighbors to cut patterns out of the clay, coat it in glaze, fire up the kiln and then fill gaps between the tiles with grout — a new skill for most.
“It’s interesting, because when you look at the individual tiles, some of them might not be so pretty,” Marcus said. “But all put together, you don’t see a bad tile. You just see, ‘Wow, this is really cool.’”
During the fall and winter of 2013 and spring of 2014, about 35 volunteers transformed a block of concrete into a Sonoran tribute, with cacti, wagons, javelinas, mariachis and a sky transitioning from sunrise to sunset.
“It was really enjoyable; I hated to see it come to an end,” said Marilyn Stimac, a 68-year-old resident who worked closely with Marcus on both projects. “My first question was, ‘Now what, Vonna?’”
The involvement of the residents in such a project was unique, said Green, the park manager.
They did all of it themselves, pitching in about $500 to purchase the necessary materials for the first project, Marcus estimated.
With the mural, the cost rose a few hundred dollars, so Green said management provided the supplies as part of a larger remodel of the park’s common areas.
“This is like back in the ‘50s where everybody knows everybody,” she added.
So in fall 2014, Marcus turned her attention to the bare 60-foot wall in the Mary Teas’ Garden, a plantless space where sunbathers lounge.
Again, Marcus found four days each week filled with neighbors and tiles — a good time-filler to keep her out of the trailer where her husband worked full time.
When the time for grouting came, volunteers huddled under tarps, pelted by rain. Stimac remembers her glasses steaming up.
“What happens is it brings people together,” said Bob Dillon, the 74-year-old president of the park’s board of directors and a snowbird from Oregon. “It’s like high school with cliques — guys who play golf or ladies who play a card game. The wall brought the different groups together, which hopefully will evolve into something in the future.”