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Creating murals in public spaces

GEORGE DAWNAY was commissioned to paint one mural at Sonoma Valley Hospital, but hospital administrators liked it so much they commissioned two more. Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune

GEORGE DAWNAY was commissioned to paint one mural at Sonoma Valley Hospital, but hospital administrators liked it so much they commissioned two more. Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune

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George Dawnay has painted murals in Tuscan villas and Parisian entry halls, on Roman ceilings and the walls of a Sebastiani home in Sonoma. Now he’s made the leap from private mansions to public spaces, sharing the splendor of his amazing artistic talent on the walls and hallways of Sonoma Valley Hospital.

First commissioned by hospital CEO Kelly Mather to paint the long ground floor hall that leads from the lobby to the skilled nursing facility, his work was so inspiring he was asked to paint two more in the new emergency and operating wing, one in the children’s play area and the other in the massive stairwell. Dawnay has been on site with his paints and brushes for two months, jumping from one mural to the other as the spirit moves him.

“They cheer you up,” he said of his work, “And hopefully they will relax people.”

For the 103-foot-long hallway Mather gave him four themes she wanted portrayed, each representing goals of the hospital – to be nurturing, community oriented, empathetic and caring, and encouraging of staff wellness.

Dawnay first created a large sample drawing for approval, and once through that process painted four scenarios – a mother with her infant, Sonoma City Hall and Plaza with people enjoying life on a farmers market-esque afternoon, an older hand clasping a younger one and a doctor with arms outstretched as if to embrace the world.

The children’s area is graced with a gorgeous duck pond, representing the one in the Plaza loved by kids of all ages. In the stairwell, which soars to 16 feet, he painted bucolic, oak-studded Sonoma hillsides with blue skies and billowing white clouds, with a faint moon in the corner, because this is the Valley of the Moon.

It’s his answer to Mather’s direction to bring nature into the hospital.

“Everyone has been so nice,” Dawnay said and he’s thankful for all the comments and support he’s had as people pass by in the heavily traveled hallway. The building engineers have gotten him whatever he needs and the volunteers bring him much-appreciated cups of tea. “Did you know this hospital has 64 volunteers?” he said, one of the fun facts he’s picked up during his artistic tenure. Dawnay knows more about the hospital than most, though. His wife is Suzannah Bozzone, M.D., a family medicine doctor who is affiliated with the hospital. They have two children, Gabriel, 2, and Madeleine, 6 months.

Dawnay was born and raised in England, and his mother and grandfather were also painters. He studied art at the Academy of Art in Florence, Italy, for six years and started getting work painting murals in and around Florence, with his business eventually growing throughout Italy and then bouncing between there and Paris.

One day in the 1990s Dawnay was painting an oil landscape on canvas while on a lunch break just outside the Tuscan villa where he was working on a mural.

A woman named Jessica Hall passed by and started up a conversation. She was an interior designer from Marin County who was on holiday and admiring his work. She asked for his phone number and called two months later to offer him a significantly lucrative job painting a mural for a home in Sonoma. She became his agent, leading to a more mural work here and throughout Marin.

Dawnay continued to bounce between Europe and America. He is also accomplished in figure drawing, and in 2000 he went to Tennessee to study with Cessna Decosino, “He was the best I’d ever seen and I always wanted to be like him.” It was there that he met his future wife, who was his waitress in a cafe. “Immediately I could see she was unique. A flower in the wild wood. My wife is gorgeous and she’s a superstar and I’m so happy I’m married to her.”

As time went on and Bozzone finished medical school and her residency in Colorado, the couple searched for a place to call home.

Remembering how he loved Sonoma and his ability to work here, they knew Sonoma would be perfect, so Bozzone joined the Prima Medical Group and they moved here three years ago.

Dawnay is a member of the Sonoma Arts Guild and attends figure drawing sessions at the Sonoma Community Center every Monday night. “The secret to great painting is to know how to draw the figure,” he said.

Dawnay paints or draws everyday, no matter what. “If I miss a day I feel like I’m losing it,” he said. He has immensely enjoyed painting the murals at the hospital and it has inspired him to do more work in public areas. “I’m very excited about the idea of doing more public and corporate murals,” he said. “There are lot of businesses that would be perfect for this.” And of course he will continue to work in homes as well.

“I’m so happy to have this opportunity,” he said. “I dream of painting this kind of mural all the time.”

Dawnay can be reached at gdawnay@gmail.com or through georgedawnay.com.