In a post-Street Art Festival world it would be hard to argue that Eureka is not the current mural champ of Humboldt. We have no official count — does anyone? Please share — but a walk around Old Town should be all the proof you need. Ooo, so many colors.

Not to be outdone, though, Arcata has also significantly upped their mural game thanks to their latest addition along Samoa Boulevard which is now ready for your eyeballs. And unless someone is hiding some nearby mega-mural we’re not aware of, this new splash of color claims the distinction of being Humboldt’s largest. Take that, Eureka. 

Mural! Murrelets!

For the past five months artist Lucas Thornton has spent five days a week precariously perched on scaffolding butted up against the exterior walls of the Arcata Bay Crossing building to paint his latest large-scale local scene. How big was his canvas? Nearly 30 feet tall and 300 feet long. The stars of his show? A handful of Marbled Murrelets, the reclusive, endangered seabirds that are quite fond of Humboldt’s old-growth trees.

Lucas Thornton is for the birds

“Fun little factoid: HSU was considering changing their mascot to the marbled murrelet at one point,” Thornton said. “Yeah, someone came by [while I was painting] and told me that.” 

(If your not sure why the splotch-covered man looks familiar, you may be recalling a high-profile paint job he applied to Fortuna a couple years back.)

The Arcata Bay Crossing building faces the much-trafficked onramp connecting Samoa Boulevard with Highway 101 south. Completed in 2015, the ABC provides transitional housing for formerly homeless community members. While many Arcatans were on board with the mission when the it opened, less were enthusiastic about the building’s initial red and yellow paint job. So Arcata City Councilmember Susan Ornelas set to work raising funds for Thornton’s mural through a combination of grants and private donations. 

The mural effort has already paid off, with its most consistent audience, at least. During the Outpost‘s visit several of the ABC building’s tenants swung around the corner to take a gander at the finished product.

“It looks good, Luke,” one older gentleman noted. “I really appreciate it. Thank you.”

Thornton said he’d gotten to know a few of the building’s residents during the months he painted their dwelling. One brought him apple sauce. All seemed grateful for the art.

“One lady told me she was pretty excited about it because now her family would be able to find her,” Thornton said. “‘Just look for the murrelets!’” 

Marbled Murrelet populations have seen rapid decline in recent decades as their nesting habitats have disappeared. They like stands of old growth trees close to the coast. The National Park Service estimates that around 4,000 murrelets live on the North Coast in and around its parks, the largest remaining population in California. Murrelets have had to struggle to survive, a fact Thornton notes they have in common with many of those who call ABC home.  

“The struggle these little birds have to endure to find food — they’ll travel up to 40 miles to the ocean to get some sardines and then fly all the way back to the forest to feed their one chick. It’s kind of like these people, here. A lot of them were homeless and couldn’t afford regular housing. Luckily Arcata was able to build this place,” Thornton said.   

The Outpost swung by ABC to try and grab some photos of the murrelet mural for this post but damn that thing is long — “The length is five feet short of the height of the Statue of Liberty.” It’s hard to frame the whole thing. Probably best for you to just go see it in person, though your best viewing is going to likely be from the Highway 101 onramp. 

“Go slow,” Thornton said.