Philip Long's dramatic leather mosaic mural honoring the four Oakland police officers recently killed in the line of duty is a study in layers.
To create the realistic, smiling faces of Sgts. Mark Dunakin, Erv Romans, Daniel Sakai and Officer John Hege he used layers upon layers of colored leather.
While working, he reflected on the emotional layers of the tragic story, especially its impact on their families. As he cut and stitched the vivid blue, green, black and cream-colored leather, he also contemplated his subjects' deaths in March while trying to figure out how to best honor both them and their loved ones in his Day of the Dead creation.
For Long, the mural is personal. It's the only large-scale leather work he has done since creating a similar mural last year to honor his father, who was murdered. It's personal, too, for the families of the officers, as the 6-foot-by-6-foot mural incorporates leather donated by them to the Oakland Police Department for the work — Sakai's full police belt, Romans' dress belt, Hege's leather-covered ticket book and Dunakin's old gun holster with his name stamped on it.
Long chokes up a bit when he talks it. He felt a kinship to Sakai, who, like him, was a runner and lived in Castro Valley. Long figures he may have seen Sakai on his morning runs.
"They are our neighbors," he says. "I want them all to be seen."
Long's piece, "Honoring Four Oakland Heroes," goes on display Saturday at the Meek Mansion in Hayward as part of "The Art of Remembrance: Days of the Dead" art show by the East Bay Art Collaborative.
Long, 39, has a day job with AT&T but has been interested in art his whole life. He took fashion design classes after high school and got his first feel for leather when he began making custom outfits for Hells Angels and others at Leather Odyssey in Hayward.
A longtime painter, he started mixing his media to make leather mosaics a few years ago. His first major piece — a 6-foot-by-12-foot mosaic titled "Ascension of John Long" — caused a stir when it was displayed last year at the Oakland Museum's Day of the Dead exhibit.
"I am the only artist that I know of doing this type of thing," Long says.
"Ascension of John Long" honors the artist's 78-year-old father, an Alameda resident who was slain in the seas near Mexico while on a solo journey to his native Ireland. It took Long about 500 hours to make the piece, which shows his father with his arms outstretched and looking skyward.
To Long, the process is therapeutic. To build it he had to concentrate on pictures of his father's face; he spent those long hours thinking about him.
"Overall, it was good," he adds, "but it wasn't easy."
"Honoring Four Oakland Heroes" also took more than 500 hours to assemble, plus a lot of wrangling and serendipity to get the small pieces of leather from the officers' families. The leather makes up part of one officer's ear and the other officers' shirts.
Tamra Hege, Officer Hege's mother, says the family has received many requests for the officer's old possessions and the family donated the ticket book "to be helpful."
The four officers are shown in formal dress and angel wings ascending from the gray streets of Oakland into the heavens. The officer closest to the top of the work is the one who died first, Dunakin. He is followed by Romans, then Sakai, and then Hege, who died in the hospital three days after the March 21 shooting. They are joined by a police shield crossed in black, a symbol of loss in the line of duty.
Few people have seen the work, he says, but it's already eliciting an emotional response. When it was placed outside the Hayward mansion before its installation, Long says, a woman walked by it and began to cry.
Long says he does not want to sell the piece and make a profit from it. He wants "Honoring Four Oakland Heroes" to go to auction and the money raised from its sale to go to the education of the officers' children.