Richard Satula’s Grand Art Gallery is the very definition of a modern roadside attraction.
For just over a year, the eye-catching 18-wheeler has occupied a small but prominent piece of land on the southeast edge of Petaluma where Adobe Road meets Stage Gulch Road. Adorned with the words “Sandra’s Mobile Art Gallery” and a large pair of portraits of richly dressed Victorian-era women, the 48-foot-long semi-trailer easily attracts the attention of motorists.
According to Satula, once people catch a glimpse of the neon “open” sign and the bright yellow sandwich board out front that reads, “Handmade Gifts, Toys, Crafts, Etc.,” a large number of drivers stop to see exactly what’s on display at this truck.
“Sometimes in a day I only see one person, sometimes 10,” he said. “I think an average of five or six people a day, something like that. It depends. I’m retired so I don’t mind. We don’t make a lot of money from it, but that’s okay. I’m doing this for my wife.
Sandra Satula is the artist whose work is on display in the large, 16-foot-tall trailer that Satula usually keeps open from 8 a.m. to about 10 p.m. Unless he’s on commission or delivering a painting to a client, he can usually be found in the truck gallery, ready and waiting to show passing motorists around and then talk about his wife’s work.
“She is an artist. She lives to paint. She cannot live without him,” he said.
The couple, both originally from Lithuania, lost homes in two separate wildfires in 2018 and 2020 in Shasta County. The devastating losses led directly, if not immediately, to the creation of Sandra’s Mobile Art Gallery.
“We had just bought our second house and five weeks later there was another fire,” explained Satula. “Before we bought it, I asked people if there had ever been any fires there, near our second house, and people said not in the last 200 years. So we bought the house and five weeks later it was gone.
Before the fires, Satule ran a more traditional art studio in a real building in Reading.
“In the first fire, she lost 60 paintings and everything,” Satula said. “We had 2-3 minutes to go. We couldn’t salvage anything so she lost all her gear and then we bought it back. And then, after the last fire, when she lost everything again, she got very depressed and said, “No. I won’t do it again.”
For six months, Satula said, Satula couldn’t bring herself to paint.
“So with the insurance money, instead of buying another house, we bought a big boat and I bought this rig,” he explained.
The truck was listed for sale in San Diego, Satula said.
“We went there. We went to San Diego, but I didn’t tell her about the truck,” he explained. “When we got there, I said, ‘Wait here in the car,’ and when I got back, I was driving this rig. She said, “What are you doing?” I said, “This is going to be your new art gallery.”
Apparently, the idea of an art gallery in a truck was enough to revive Satule’s artistic inspiration.
“She started coming back from her depression,” Satula said. “And now she paints all the time. She works 10 hours a day. But she works with oil paints and that takes a while to dry, and she can only paint one color at a time, so she works on a whole bunch of paintings at once, one after the other. And if the oil has not yet dried on any of them, she makes jewelry or makes toys. She is always busy. It makes her happy.”
Satula stays on the boat, a three-story yacht docked in Rio Vista, in Solano County, and visits with new paintings every 10 days, Satula said. When she is visiting, she paints there in the truck, in a special studio in the big cabin. Asked why he chose this particular spot off Stage Gulch Road, which he leases from the property owner, to park the rig and set up his roadside art gallery, Satula’s answer is as simple as it is practical.
“It is big rig,” he said. “There aren’t many places to stop and park.”
The unconventional arrangement suits him, he said. It keeps him busy and he enjoys meeting people, although it can be quite a challenge to maintain such an operation in a truck that, despite being large, still has limitations.
“I sell all the time, but the place I have is the space I have,” he said. “I sold that one yesterday.”
He points to an empty spot on the side of the truck. “It calls for a 30-by-40-inch painting, so I called her up and said, ‘I need a 30-by-40 and I need a 24-by-36 and I just sold a 60-by-48, so I need another one of them.’ And next time she comes, we’ll have the paintings to fill the space.