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Napa Valley Gold

In winter, when much of the world is shrouded in winter gloom, the Napa Valley land-scape explodes with cheerful color as the bright yellow flowers of the mustard plant appear everywhere from between rows of grapevines to vacant lots.

The annual Mustard Celebration pays homage to the humble weed that blooms throughout the winter and play a vital agricultural role in the valley.

In winter, when much of the world is shrouded in winter gloom, the Napa Valley land-scape explodes with cheerful color as the bright yellow flowers of the mustard plant appear everywhere from between rows of grapevines to vacant lots. Although mustard’s vibrant beauty blanketing the hills and valleys lifts the spirits of winter weary residents as well as visitors, this plant is more than just another pretty face. Mustard plays an essential role in wine country agriculture far beyond its aesthetic appeal by protecting the soil, replenishing soil nutrients, attracting beneficial insects, preventing erosion and warding off grapevine pests.

So, it’s little wonder that people living here are honoring the mustard plant from January through March with the Napa Valley Mustard Celebration.

Throughout the valley, from American Canyon to Calistoga groups of artists, business leaders and other civic minded people are preparing for this celebration with a wide variety of special events and activities.

For example, there was a flurry of activity at Jessel Gallery in Napa this week as three artists – brushes in hand – painted a “live set” for the celebration. This painting will serve as a background for a “living painting” in homage to Michael Fitzpatrick’s “Golden Days,” the art that was chosen to brand this year’s Napa Valley Mustard Celebration.

A model, dressed as the woman in Fitzpatrick’s painting, will be standing with a bicycle in front of the enormous reproduction, providing an element of theater to mustard-themed events at the gallery on February 3 and 4.

“It was the most amazing experience first to create a huge 7-foot by 7-foot canvas from a painters’ tarp by John Stemmer, my framer,” Jessel Gallery owner, Jessel Miller said. “John Roos and Michelle Moore, two of my professional students from my acrylic class, worked side by side up and down ladders honoring and reproducing Michael Fitzpatrick’s background of the 2024 Napa Valley Mustard Celebration Painting.”

“John Stemmer spent three days renovating my old bicycle to match the bicycle in the painting as well,” Miller continued.

“We have never collaborated like this before, and all of us were so exhilarated - and exhausted – by the art dance we did all day,” Fitzpatrick’s original “Golden Days” painting is being auctioned through Jessel Gallery through March 31. Miller maintains the bid sheet and will announce the final bid and winner.

The current bid is $10,000. Bid amounts must be $200 more than the current bid shown on the website. https://www.napavalleymustardcelebration.com

The “living painting” that visitors can experience at Jessel Gallery is one of many events and activities taking place throughout the valley during the Napa Valley Mustard Celebration.

Representatives of the upvalley chambers of commerce, Visit Napa Valley and the DowntownNapa Association, along with leaders in art and business put months of planning into this year’s mustard celebration.

“All of us saw the value in the mustard celebration,” said Downtown Napa Association executive director, Bill La Liberte. “Jessel is the driving force behind this. She connected with different chambers and made it easy for us to step up and build on.”

“When all of this started out there wasn’t a lot of funding for it,” Liberte continued. “We’re putting money into it for future years.”

“It is very clear to me that this valley wide event is picking up steam in the most positive and productive ways for retail, visitors and locals alike. The heartbeat of this happening is infectious, and I can tell you from firsthand experience that this year is igniting a flame that will only grow more powerful each coming year,” Miller said.

Mustard celebration planners hope that this year’s event as well as future celebrations will bring visitors to the valley during “the shoulder season,” a quiet time of year, as the original mustard event did.

Created in 1994, it was billed as the Napa Valley Mustard Festival and for 16 years it brought visitors to the valley who filled the hotels, shopped in the stores, ate in the restaurants, drank the wine and bought the art they discovered.

They also took photos. Posing for pictures alongside the tall mustard plants in bloom was popular and some of the best photos were entered in Photo Finish, a mustard themed exhibit created by Michael Schaer. This event, held at Mumm attracted over 500 entries a season. Photo Finish as well as other popular events in the original mustard celebration have returned.

An artist applies yellow paint to a “living photo” in preparation for Napa Valley Mustard Celebration.
Above: Michelle Moore, John Roos and Jessel Miller take a break from painting a background for a “living photo” in homage to Michael Fitzpatrick’s “Golden Days” the art that was chosen to brand this year’s Napa Valley Mustard Celebration.
John Roos works on a reproduction of “Golden Days” in preparation for Napa Valley Mustard Celebration.

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