Welcoming visitors with a ‘Mona Lisa smile’

Posted: September 2nd, 2016 | Columnists, Featured, Little Italy News | No Comments

By Chris Gomez | Little Italy News

Little Italy’s very own Washington Elementary STEAM Magnet School students, under the direction of instructor Jayne Barnett, are making Little Italy slightly more colorful this September with a new public art installation — a 20-by-20-foot “Mine-A-Lisa” painting mural.

The masterpiece will be displayed on the corner of West Grape and State streets, giving residents and visitors a friendly salutation — “Ciao!” as they depart from San Diego’s Italian neighborhood.

Washington Elementary School’s “Mine-A-Lisa” mural will be displayed where local artist Catherine Becker’s Tuna Mural once hung. Becker’s masterpiece was removed in March of 2015 due to the mural becoming weathered and deemed a potential hazard. The Little Italy Association wanted to replace the public art and the students of Washington Elementary STEAM Magnet School came up with an idea to create a collaborative piece of art to engage with the community.

Mine A Lisa

The “Mine-A-Lisa” painting, comprised of 1,600 painted squares, by Washington Elementary STEAM Magnet School’s students. (Courtesy Little Italy Association)

The STEAM students dreamed up a Mona Lisa mural — modeled after the very popular children’s video game, Minecraft, a game where you can build virtually anything with bricks. The mural was named “Mine-A-Lisa” and was constructed out of 1,600 painted squares to emulate the bricks in Minecraft that come together to create a 20-by-20-foot masterpiece.

The modern Mona Lisa took 188 hours to complete. There are 12 wood panels, composed of 6-by-6-inch painted squares, which come together to create the mural. Local San Diego State graphics major, Jess Kowalski, created the graphics for the students to use as a guide. The semi-gloss exterior paint layer and anti-graffiti coat will protect the mural from weather and damage. All materials used to create the mural were donated to the school by Dixieline Lumber.

One of Little Italy San Diego’s goals is to beautify the community and public art installations are one way it does just that. As often as possible, the Little Italy Association works to integrate its community school into all the events and activities that are happening in the neighborhood.

The “Mine-A-Lisa” mural — which we expect to be installed at the end of September — is proudly dedicatedo the residents of Little Italy from Washington Elementary STEAM Magnet School and the students hope it brings good wishes to the community.

For more updates on the mural and the Little Italy neighborhood, visit or follow the neighborhood on Instagram and Twitter @LittleItalySD and Facebook/San Diego Little Italy.

—Christopher Gomez has been Little Italy’s district manager since 2000. Reach him at

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