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‘The Dragon Mural’: Native La Jolla artist completes new painting on Mandarin House

"The Dragon Mural" at Mandarin House restaurant is a nod to the former Green Dragon Colony in La Jolla.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

Natalie Bessell’s artwork on the south wall of the restaurant is inspired by the former Green Dragon artist colony.

A new mural is breathing life and color into La Jolla, tying together history, family and location.

The piece, painted by La Jolla native Natalie Bessell and unofficially titled “The Dragon Mural,” was finished Oct. 9 on the south wall of Mandarin House restaurant at 6765 La Jolla Blvd.

The mural is a large painting of a multicolored dragon seemingly rolling in ocean waves as the sun sets.

The piece, planned with Mandarin House owner Nelson Law, is inspired by the Green Dragon Colony, a 12-cottage artist colony built more than 100 years ago near La Jolla Cove by Anna Held, who arrived in La Jolla in 1894.

The colony no longer exists, but Bessell wanted her dragon mural to be a tribute to it, as her paternal grandmother, Patricia Duffy, belonged to the colony.

“I had needlepoint works of hers — three dragons [that] were above my bed for a long time,” Bessell said.

The dragon in Bessell’s mural has a green face and red body and follows the “vintage Chinese aesthetic” that Bessell said Law likes for his restaurant.

Law said the dragon “is a traditional motif that’s tied with Chinese culture,” representing strength and good luck.

Artist Natalie Bessell says "The Dragon Mural" has elements representative of the area, which is close to Windansea Beach.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

Law wanted the dragon in water because “the ocean is such a part of our lives here in La Jolla, and I wanted sunset with cotton candy skies because that’s my favorite time of day,” he said.

Bessell said the infusion of sunset colors makes the mural representative of the area, which is close to Windansea Beach.

Law said he’s very excited at how the mural turned out and that he thinks it will “add a splash of life and pop to not just my building but the area in general.”

He added that he hopes it brings a sense of power and comfort to those who view it.

The mural’s concept and design began more than three years ago, when Bessell, who grew up in La Jolla, worked with Law on creating it.

However, the day before Bessell was supposed to begin painting in August 2019, a fire closed the restaurant.

Bessell, daughter of La Jolla surfboard shaper Tim Bessell, moved to Australia just before the COVID-19 pandemic began more than two years ago. September marked her first return to La Jolla since.

The mural will “add a splash of life and pop to not just my building but the area in general.”

— Mandarin House owner Nelson Law

Bessell said she didn’t believe “The Dragon Mural” would ever happen until Law called her in June to restart the project.

“He really wanted to get this up before summer was over,” Bessell said, though her schedule didn’t allow for her return until September.

“We made it happen,” she said.

Bessell paints a mural every year and creates in other media as well. For more information, visit nataliebessellart.com.