HAYWARD -- The only legal way to see the city's longest mural -- it's about 450 feet and growing -- is by looking through a westerly BART train window, paying attention to the sound wall along the tracks near the Jackson Street overpass.
There, Jean Bidwell's latest and largest piece is a fantastic sight.
Birds and paintbrushes take flight in vivid color, merging into agricultural scenes, then the realm of academia, followed by an homage to the fine and performing arts. And it's not even half done.
"I've been watching ever since she first started, and it's amazing; she's really good," said Oso Santistevan, a Chabot College student and one of many who have seen the piece the illegal way -- by trespassing along the Union Pacific corridor as a shortcut through town.
Santistevan said he was thrilled and inspired to come across Bidwell's work on the sound wall that formerly was dreary at best, blighted at worst.
"I don't think anyone will mess up her art, it's just so nice," he said.
That's the idea.
Bidwell's piece is part of the city's Mural Art Program, aimed at filling concrete and steel canvases around town with inspiring images that discourage vandalism. She also painted utility boxes on A Street and the book depositories at the main library.
The mural eventually will cover about 10,000 square feet of sound wall, turning the corner to run along Jackson Street so drivers and pedestrians can take a gander as well.
Bidwell said the piece is all about the virtues of Hayward.
"It shows what makes the city special," she said. "This town is loaded with a lot of history, iconic businesses "... and it's got a great future ahead."
She began the project Nov. 3, using house paint that she blends and mixes into an array of hues.
"Why spend money on expensive acrylics when this is weather resistant and easily scrubs clean?" she said.
Since then, she's been there five days a week, weather permitting.
It takes a day or a day and a half to complete each 9-by-20-foot panel of the sound wall. So far she's done 22 out of 61 panels.
Bidwell receives a lot of help from her nephew, Matt Bidwell, a commercial painter who drives from Chico to lend a hand. She also credited Doug and Dee Dee Ligibel of the Grand Terrace homeowners group for their work to paint over tags and make the rail corridor less of a trouble spot.
She has plans for more iconic Hayward images -- the koi of the Japanese Gardens, the Hayward Shoreline Interpretive Center. And she's always welcome to suggestions -- Santistevan wanted to see Chabot College on the wall and now the school's library is there, right next to Cal State East Bay's Warren Hall.
She'd like to hear more ideas.
"The people who have lived here all their lives, what do they think about when they think of Hayward?" she said. "Right now it's one artist's vision, but (the mural) belongs to everyone."