Mural artist paints the town


Sheryl Cathers uses public utility boxes as her canvas
Most artists will say their favorite tool is a fine bristle brush or maybe a nifty, French portable easel, but for Gilroy painter Sheryl Cathers it’s a truck.
A 2013 Toyota Tacoma pickup, to be specific.
“It’s the best purchase I ever made,” said the mother of two and long-time art teacher.
Over the past seven years, and with the help of her blue truck, Cathers has turned a passion into a bustling business that literally paints the town happy.
Known for her outdoor murals and colorfully decorated utility boxes, Cathers, 53, also owns the downtown Dabble Art Center and studio on Monterey Road. It’s a dream come true.
“I got married at 23 and had kids pretty young, so my art world was derailed a bit,” she says.
“But I’ve always wanted to have my own studio and my husband said, ‘Why don’t you do it?’”
So in 2010, about halfway through her 18-year career as a fine arts teacher at St. Mary School, she opened Dabble.
“Now it has grown into my full time job, career and financial support,” says Cathers.
It’s all the more surprising to many, she adds, because ever since a childhood accident she had been legally blind in one eye.
At Dabble, Cathers offers classes for homeschooled kids and other classes for students who attend traditional schools.
She teaches group and private classes for adults and summer workshops, and hosts paint parties and birthday parties.
Clients love it.
Her online Yelp reviewers all award her maximum five stars and they are glowing.
“We had so much fun with Sheryl as we learned some basics of acrylic painting. She makes it easy for anyone to learn to paint, and we will definitely be going back!” wrote Marti W. of Morgan Hill.
And Beth B. of San Jose wrote, “Wonderful studio!  Sheryl is an excellent teacher.  I had a great time at a private painting party tonight!  Fun, relaxed atmosphere.  Can’t wait to do it again.”
When the Brownell Middle School Parents Club decided to help boost school spirits by beautifying the campus, club president Greg Bozzo was already aware of Cathers’ work.
She was given commissions two years in a row to work alongside art club students who designed and created five colorful wall murals and painted bruin bear paw prints, the school’s mascot, on a wall facing First Street.
“I had seen her work all over town,” says Bozzo. “The utility boxes, and she also did one at the library that my mom and dad helped fund raise for,” he said.
He was impressed, and says that Cathers’ collaboration with students and art club advisor Teri Mikkelsen has made the school a nicer place.
It’s something Cathers can appreciate, having taught fine art at St. Mary School from 1997 to 2016 and having been named an Educator of the Year in 2007 by San Jose Magazine, shortly before her youngest went off to college. She has a son, 29 and a daughter, 25, who’s also an artist.
Cathers grew up in San Jose but her mom was raised in Gilroy. The artist spent lots of time at her grandparents’ Gilroy home as a child.
She and her husband of 30 years moved to Gilroy in 1990. He’s a retired Apple engineer who teaches sailing in Santa Cruz.
“I go sailing with him as often as I can,” Cathers says. “I love painting the ocean, it’s my favorite thing to paint, and I’ve painted quite a few vineyards, too.”
Along with her more than 50 private and public murals and fine art commissions, she also hosts painting sessions at the Fernwood Cellars and Jason Stephens wineries in Gilroy, she designed Fernwood’s labels and was the 1st Place winner of the Gilroy Garlic Festival poster contest in 2013 and 3rd Place winner in 2008.
In 2006, Cathers received a call from the Gilroy Police Department’s graffiti eradication program. They needed help to solve the nagging problem of graffiti along the Uvas Creek Levee Trail as it passes under Santa Teresa Boulevard.
Pulling together a group of several dozen young helpers, Cathers organized an ambitious project that created expansive works on two concrete walls under the overpass, both with flowing themes of local flora, wildlife and scenery.
Seemingly a bit out of place, her pickup was parked this week back on the asphalt levee trail, typically the home of walkers, joggers and bicyclists.
Working out of the back of the Toyota, using it as a sort of painters cart, she touched up and added new motifs to one of the murals, where new animals, birds, flowers and trees seem to pop up magically from time to time as Cathers adds to the work.
“I love painting walls, the bigger the better, it’s exciting,” she says, adding a bit of encouragement those who might think a career in fine arts is only a dream.
 “You have to work really hard and you have to be committed and blessed with good people around you, but it’s quite possible to have a fulfilling career,” she said.