Pleasanton Weekly

Cover Story - August 13, 2010

Imagine

Stick figures around town keep the magic alive

by Jerri Pantages Long

Imagine.

That single word has been the credo of Gary Winter, and he wants others to adopt it, too.

Artist, designer, inventor and entrepreneur, Winter also is a man with a message: "Use your imagination!"

To help people do just that, he has transformed "stick figure" sketches into life-size statues made of two-by-four lumber, Gorilla glue and wood screws. These are appearing at different places around town.

If you happen to glance up at the historic tower on the east end of the Pleasanton arch sign, you can glimpse a window washer leaning out of the second-story window. Drive by a Victorian home, and you may catch sight of wooden figures mowing the lawn and trimming the hedges.

"If I can get a person to do a double-take, then I know I've jolted their imagination and gotten them out of their rut for that instant," Winter said. "Especially in these times, we need something to smile about."

Sitting side by side on a Main Street bench might be one "person" reading the Pleasanton Weekly next to another sending text messages. While farmers market is in session on Saturdays, some of Winter's life-size stick figures can be viewed outside of the Berry Patch shop at the corner of Main and Angela streets. A skateboarder crouches, going full speed, with his dog keeping up. A cowboy leans against a post, hat tilted down over his face.

Wryly noting that "art is the first thing to go" when the economy hits a downturn, Winter decided to devote his creativity to helping others "dream wisely" -- one of his favorite sayings, and one he often signs on his artwork.

"I'm trying to create some fun, to keep the magic alive," he said.

He began transforming sketches to sculptures last winter, even before the announcement of the 11 Seward Johnson bronze life-size figures coming temporarily to town.

"I was trying to think of something I could make my son for Christmas," Winter recalled, "and the idea of the skateboarder just came into my mind, in full detail. That was the beginning."

Winter said he began creating the whimsical stick figures not to sell -- although two have been ordered -- but to inspire.

He has a website, www.SNGear.com, "To Motivate and Inspire," which lists the steps that can help people translate their dreams into reality. The site even provides a sampling of a catchy song entitled "Get your SN Gear," composed and sung by his friend, Michael Wesley Dean.

The "S" stands for "success," Winter notes on the site. "SNGear is a concise rule of conduct for staying focused on success."

Winter believes that "there are only three gears in life: Forward, neutral and reverse."

"Any time spent in worry, doubt, frustration or negative thought is like shifting your goals into reverse.... Learn to throw your rear-view mirror away, and leave the fear behind," he advises.

Winter knows from personal experience that well-meaning friends and family members can be too quick to say that a creative endeavor is "impossible." He has had successes that few would have dreamed possible, by making barriers into challenges, asking, "How can I solve that?" He hopes to speak in classrooms or to offer lessons to entire families, "to show people how to imagine a better day, a better way."

"People come up to me and say, 'How do you do that? I could never think of something like that.' But that's not true. All of us are born with imagination. Unfortunately, too many people stop using that gift," said Winter. "They have ideas that float by, without ever being captured by pencil and paper and turned into detailed plans. I want to help turn that around. Call it my small part to stimulate this country, from right here in my hometown."

Winter has a profound love for this part of the world. He is proud to be a fourth-generation Californian. His maternal great-grandfather, Frank Moniz Barrett, immigrated to California from the Azores in the 1800s, establishing what became the main drayage company in San Francisco.

"He had these horse-drawn wagons that would go down to the Embarcadero to meet the ships and offload the redwood lumber that was brought down from the north," explained Winter. "His wagons would haul the lumber directly to the building sites," including to some of the mansions being built on Nob Hill.

The horses had to plod along cobblestone streets, so the teams had to be rotated to give them time to rest and recover. Although Barrett's main home was in Alameda, he purchased the 850-acre Sky Ranch near Bollinger Canyon Road to pasture his horses. One day Barrett rode into Pleasanton on horseback, looking for more horses to buy, and he fell in love with the area, purchasing another 100-acre ranch in Sunol, southeast of Pleasanton.

As a boy in the 1950s, Gary Winter would travel between these family ranches in the summertime.

"That's why I fell in love with Pleasanton at such an early age," he said.

His fondness for the area's golden hills and oak trees has been captured in murals he has painted in Pleasanton, Dublin, San Ramon and Livermore. The largest of these is the Pleasanton mural, on the side of Strizzi's Restaurant on St. Mary Street at Main. It measures 50 feet by 16 feet and incorporates the Alameda County Fairgrounds, "site of the oldest one-mile racetrack in the United States," and Phoebe Apperson Hearst's former estate, which is now the site of Castlewood Country Club.

When building owner Gene Finch agreed to the project, creating the mural required Winter to put into practice all the steps he outlines in SNGear.

"I tried to get the picture in my mind, exactly what I was going to do," Winter said. "I would not allow myself to think 'can't.' If I got stuck on trying to figure out one part of the mural, I would simply work on another area until the solution came to me."

Considering that his great-grandfather was in the lumber business, it seems appropriate that Winter's sponsor for the stick-figure sculptures is local Richert Lumber Co.

Richert's, founded in 1976, has become in part an art gallery for Winter's latest creations, including a life-size, four-member rock band called -- appropriately -- "Woody and the Two-by-Fours." They can be viewed at 5505 Sunol Blvd. during store hours.

"Gary approached me with his 'stick figures,' and I loved the idea immediately," said owner Tom Richert. "Our contributing to public art is giving back to our community. Art defines a community, and the more we demand, the more we will benefit."

Current economic circumstances make it particularly difficult for local artists, he noted.

"We all have an appreciation of art, but a reluctance to spend public money in support," Richert said. "I hope the simple wooden 'stick figures' will be a beginning of art blossoming in our town. Let the community enjoy the eclectic art put forth by those willing to bear the costs. Encourage art, and allow retailers to spend on art as much as they would spend on a sign, as a way of drawing attention to their businesses."

Visit Richert's double-size First Wednesday booth on Main Street in September and you will see several of the stick figures, holding a tape measure, using a level, and performing other handyman activities. Towering above the booth are the largest stick figures of all -- each 15 feet high -- holding a banner, which says ... "Imagine."

Using his imagination

Artist Gary Winter has also done the following:

* Cylindrical Concepts -- Designed and built a line of home and display furniture based on industrial-size cardboard tubes.

* The Swirl -- With brother Benjamin, invented the Swirl, a grooved, foam football that sold more than 1 million and won a 1991 award from Business Week as "Best Product Design of the Year." It's now part of the permanent collections in the Museums of Modern Art in both New York and San Francisco.

* Nail art -- Tapped thousands of nails into redwood to create art pieces. Two are in Ripley's Believe-It-Or-Not museums: a motorcycle and an enlarged coin. Winter translated the Presidential Seal into nail art as a gift for President Ronald Reagan, and was commissioned to create a nail art logo plaque for Habitat for Humanity to present to former President Jimmy Carter.

* Pleasanton miniatures -- Winter's little wooden figures of local landmark buildings have attracted more than a thousand collectors.

* Murals -- Painted murals on walls in Pleasanton, Livermore, Dublin and San Ramon, seeking to preserve our heritage of rolling hills and oak trees.

Steps to making one's dream a reality

:

* THINK -- "Choose your thoughts wisely. They are your POWER."

* LISTEN - "Inspiration arrives every day. Learn to LISTEN."

* DREAM - "Dream wisely; this is the result of your IMAGINATION."

* IMAGINE - "Where DREAMS begin, open the door wide: Anything is possible."

* FOCUS - "Do not waste time or energy in reverse gear. Focus forward on your SUCCESS."

* DO - "Take action!"

From www.SNGear.com by Gary Winter

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