Artist completes sewer pipe mural across Truckee River in Tahoe City |

Artist completes sewer pipe mural across Truckee River in Tahoe City

Stephane Cellier, the artist responsible for painting a mural across a sewage pipe crossing the Truckee River, discusses on Monday the process he took to create the work of art.
Josh Staab / Sierra Sun |

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To see more of Stephane Cellier’s work or to get in touch with him, visit

TAHOE CITY, Calif. — What once was a functioning (decaying, but functional) sewer pipe adorned with passersby’s gum and stickers is now a work of local art.

Stephane Cellier, the artist selected to create a mural atop a replacement sewer pipe crossing the Truckee River, recently finished his project in Tahoe City.

The Virginia City art instructor turned to the classic style of “trompe-l’œil,” a French word meaning “deceive the eye,” to create the illusion that his work exists in three dimensions within the pipe itself.

Across the 80 feet of pipe, Cellier painted a scene of local freshwater fish swimming against an emerald-hued underwater world.

Cellier said the project took him 11 days to create and was not without its challenges.

“(There) is curve, so the design has to deal with that,” Cellier said.

In preparation, Cellier said he practiced with small models to get acquainted with the dimensions he would have to consider when painting the mural.

Cellier and Tahoe City Public Utility District engineers were honored during a Monday event at the location, where residents were offered their first “official” look at the new pipe.

“The entire TCPUD staff has nothing but positive things to say about the job Mr. Cellier did on the sewer pipe. His proposal was an excellent representation of the finished product,” said Kurt Althof, TCPUD grants and community information administrator. “We hope the public will enjoy it for years to come.”

After the mural was finished, the painting was coated in a UV-protective layer, which Cellier and TCPUD crews hope will last for many years.

Of course, Cellier isn’t opposed to returning to the project as needed to do touch-up work from time to time.

The new 38-inch diameter steel pipe is designed to protect the river from potential sewer line failure. It accommodates a flow of about 4 million gallons per day.

It replaces the old pipe that had collected more than 50 years worth of stickers, chewed gum and other filth and had become a familiar site for those floating the west side of the Truckee River during the summer.

The $1.16 million project is not finished, though, said Althof. TCPUD crews still have to finish work on concrete encasements, as well as replanting vegetation removed during initial construction.

For now though, Cellier — who was granted $4,600 to provide artwork to the pipe — is satisfied with the mural and would look forward to working with TCPUD again and with other organizations.

“It gives me the idea to do some art classes here (in Tahoe City),” Cellier said. “I only give lessons in Reno and Virginia City at the moment, because I do more than just draw — I work in classical styles as well.”

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