Suddenly, the carpet was pulled out from under them.
“We had to move because the building sold,” says Royce Morales, the owner, with her husband, Mike, of Harmony Works in Redondo’s Riviera Village. “We had been there for almost 18 years, and so it was very traumatic.”
After casting their search engines far and wide, a new location was found only a couple of blocks away. Situated on the uphill swing of Catalina Avenue across from Elena, the site had housed a dive shop for the previous 44 years.
“We had to transform it from top to bottom,” Morales says.
Harmony Works sells crafted items and is eco-friendly. They’ve also been good about lending support to local artists. The new space has a small gallery towards the rear of the store.
It needed something bright
However, I’m a little claustrophobic and it’s a nice day, so let’s step outside. And while we’re here, let’s talk about the large, colorful mural that creeps up and splashes across the front of the building.
“We had this big blank white thing, a 25-foot canvas so to speak,” Morales says. She was pondering how to enliven it, but it was a friend’s idea that caught her attention.
“We were relaxing one evening and she said, What about a tree of life? And it just kind of hit me – Oh, that sounds really perfect. I went home and Googled it,” Morales continues, “and I read that Trees of Life are symbolic in just about every spiritual discipline. Every religion has some indication of a Tree of Life symbol.
“That was very meaningful for me, and I decided to make it look really bright and wild but beautiful at the same time. There’s probably at least 25 different creatures or people or objects on there that are in some ways symbolic to us, part of our Tree of Life.”
Well, you can’t just put a couple of cans of paint next to a wall and have it magically paint itself. Someone needs to put in some serious time, and they better have a paintbrush, too.
This is where Gina Steiglitz comes into the picture.
“I showed her some images,” Morales says, telling Steiglitz, “I kind of want it like this; I want it bright and crazy and splashy.”
“The wild color combinations were a test for me,” Steiglitz says, because I consider myself a realistic painter. I had to think and paint ‘outside the box.’ A blue rooster, green pig, multicolor cat, pink elephant, and many more.”
“It worked out really well,” Morales says. “Every 20 minutes or so she’d say, Well, okay, what color should this be? We were out there helping her, kind of stepping back because she couldn’t step back. She was on scaffolding.”
A high wire act
“The project was indeed a challenge,” Steiglitz says. “Having to climb scaffolding was frightening: It’s not that I’m afraid of heights, I’m just afraid of falling from them.”
“She’s on this scaffolding 25 feet up, and she’s just terrified the whole time,” Morales says, “but she did good. We’d step back and say, Okay, it needs to be a little bit higher, a little bit greener…”
The mural took about three and a half weeks to complete, with Steiglitz being able to plant her feet on terra firma, or at least sidewalk, for the first several days.
“If you’ve ever put together scaffolding,” Morales begins, shaking her head, “don’t ever do it. It was crazy. We rented it, and they just sort of dropped it off and said, Here you go.”
She laughs. “Well, what do we do? Every time we had to move it we had to take it apart and put it back together. And every time [Steiglitz] needed another layer, or needed to be lower or higher, we had to completely take apart the whole thing. So that was not fun.”
“After a while you get to be good at it,” Mike Morales says jokingly. “I’ll be working in a construction crew now.”
“I’ll remind you of how much fun you had,” his wife replies.
“In retrospect it was fun,” he counters.
“Everything’s fun in retrospect,” says Royce Morales.
“At the time it was terrifying,” he concedes.
You won’t miss it now
“The design evolved as I looked around,” says Gina Steiglitz. “I paid tribute to the ocean by including dolphins we see from the beach. The big face represents Mother Earth looking at us, observing the way we treat her. I included a California sunset with a Riviera Village palm tree from a photo I took from the back of the store. The rest was created as Michael or Royce suggested new characters or items that had special meaning to them.”
At first, Mike Morales says, they’d simply hung up the Harmony Works sign from the previous location. “The letters were at an angle because they were on an awning before, so we had to flatten the letters out – and people were still saying ‘We didn’t notice your sign in front of the building.’”
The signage had been prominent, but the new storefront simply dwarfs it.
“The wall’s 30 feet by 25 feet,” he continues, “so the sign is a little thing. By putting the tree there we connected it by two painted ropes so the sign hangs from the tree. Now it makes it easy for people to see us again. They see the tree and they see ‘Harmony Works’ connected to it, so it worked out well that way.”
“And people have already said, Oh my gosh, it’s a landmark,” adds Royce Morales. “I think that was probably the biggest compliment the artist got. ‘It’s a landmark.’”
For Steiglitz, according to Mike Morales, such high praised was actually a bit daunting. “She was afraid, Oh no, I’ve painted a landmark, now what am I gonna do?”
His wife laughs. “A lot of people were stopping (to watch her paint): ‘Are you doing that?’ and ‘Oh my god that’s so incredible’ and ‘Do you have a card?’ I think she has ten jobs from that.”
“At the end, I am very satisfied with the results,” Steiglitz says. “I love doing murals because it’s one of the best ways to share art with people.
“I thought I wouldn’t like to paint out in the open on the street but I was so wrong,” she continues. “People were so kind and curious, and many were grateful for adding color to that bland white wall. I said thank you countless times for their comments and encouragement – evenwhen I was at the top of the scaffolding holding on for dear life!”
Harmony Works is at 1911 S. Catalina Avenue in Riviera Village, Redondo Beach. (310) 791-7104 or go to harmony-works.com.