True Conspiracy

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Thursday, August 17, 2006

Oregon Mona Lisa



TOLEDO -- A drive along U.S. 20 is always full of surprises -- speeding semis, passing cars, wildlife dashing in front of bumpers. Now add to the list a 60-foot traffic stopper.

Round a corner and there it is: The enigmatic smile and dark eyes of Mona Lisa gazing from a country hillside.

"It's unbelievable," said Janet Hunter, who stopped to take a picture Wednesday. "It's fantastic."

Local artist Samuel Clemens has been waiting to create a piece of landscape art since he was a child and saw a picture of a farmer who had transformed a field into art using fertilizer to darken the green of the grass.

Four decades later, the time was right.

"I was always going to do the Mona Lisa," said Clemens, 48, who describes himself as an artist who pays the bills working construction. "I did it because the Mona Lisa is the most recognized thing."

He re-created the Leonardo da Vinci masterpiece on his land about four miles east of Newport by making a stencil on a tarp, then dusting the hillside with black water-based pigment. It took him 14 hours just to lay out the tarp and another nine to spray the 40-by-60-foot painting. He finished Saturday.

"Whenever someone makes the effort, you have to stop and appreciate it," said Becky Stillwell of Albany, who brought her guests from Boston to view the work. "Otherwise, people stop doing interesting things."

Clemens has been prepping the 18-acre site for the work since he bought the former dairy farm eight years ago. He always knew the 60-degree slope below his house was the perfect place, but back then, it was one big blackberry-covered mess. For years he worked to trim the hillside and get grass growing again.

This summer, it was ready.

"I was worried about the detail because the hill isn't smooth," he said. "It isn't like a piece of paper. As it was, I lost a little smile at the corner of her mouth and one of her eyes is in an undulation."

But he's satisfied with the finished product.

"It seems to make people happy," Clemens said. "As long as everyone is safe when they view it driving by, that's all I ask. Enjoy some free art."

The Mona Lisa will disappear as the grass grows, but Clemens already has plans for 2007. We'll let that be next year's Highway 20 surprise.

Source - The Oregonian

Further Reading:

Math and the Mona Lisa: The Art and Science of Leonardo da Vinci

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