Woman erases grafitti on rocks | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Woman erases grafitti on rocks

Gregory Crofton, Tahoe Dailey Tribune

It looked like a Flintstone character holding a surfboard. At least it did until a couple of weeks ago.

Half of a graffiti design just north of Cave Rock is now gone because of an artist named Lori Sugai. She paints damaged or defaced rock in an effort to make them look like rocks again.

“I love rocks. I think God is the ultimate artist. What nature puts here is for everyone’s pleasure,” Sugai, a South Shore resident for seven years, said. “This is one of the things, since I came here, I’ve been looking at and thinking it’s stupid and ugly.”

Sugai uses a mix of adhesives, sand, glitter, stain and paint to recreate the appearance of rocks in the Sierra, often covered with a distinct symbiotic combination of fungus and alga called lichen.

“That’s where my expertise comes in,” said Sugai, an energetic woman who lived in Japan for seven years before moving to Tahoe. “I can match the lichen’s texture and everything.”

Sugai, who makes her living as an artist and painter, said she planned to finish work to cover the rock design this week. Up close it looks like someone created the figure by scraping away lichen or it could have been spray paint that killed the small plant before it faded.

The U.S. Forest Service says it can’t support Sugai’s work because, technically, it is illegal if approval is not obtained from land managers prior to the work.

Rex Norman, spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service’s Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, said he is not positive whose jurisdiction the rock falls under. He also pointed out that some markings perceived as graffiti may have historical significance.

“Although the Forest Service appreciates and shares the concern about unsightly graffiti, we cannot condone the painting over of rocks or surfaces without the full consent and guidance of land managers and others who have jurisdiction of the site,” Norman said. “It should be noted that in other National Forest Areas, concerned citizens have successfully worked in cooperation with the forest.”

Sugai’s goal is to travel the country and restore defaced rocks on national and native lands. She also would like to paint the concrete facades of the tunnels that run through Cave Rock. Sugai would make the concrete look like rock of the old volcano.

“She needs to go through the proper channels,” said Scott Magruder, spokesman for the Nevada Department of Transportation, which built and manages the tunnels. “But the first thing would be to go through NDOT.”

NDOT’s first concern would be safety because the painting would be in such a precarious spot. A rendering of what her work would look like would also likely be required, Magruder said.

“This kind of thing is rather unique,” he said. “What would need to be considered is what it’s going to look like. That might be something that comes through the county commission or the TRPA (Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.)”

Even if Sugai was caught as she covered graffiti and got a ticket for it, she said the law would be at fault and not herself.

“It’s morally wrong to allow this,” Sugai said of graffiti disrupting Mother Nature. “By doing this, I’m doing my part to help keep Tahoe beautiful. My part to restore the magic.”

— Gregory Crofton can be reached at (530) 542-8045 or by e-mail at gcrofton@tahoedailytribune.com

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