An art gallery in a big rig on Stage Gulch Road?

Richard Satula’s big-rig art gallery is the very definition of a modern roadside attraction.

For just over a year now, the eye-catching 18-wheeler truck has occupied a small but prominent scrap of land at the south-eastern edge of Petaluma where Adobe Road meets Stage Gulch Road. Emblazoned with the words “Sandra’s Mobile Art Gallery” and a large pair of portraits of ornately-attired Victorian-era women, the 48-foot-long semi-trailer easily catches the attention of drivers.

According to Satula, once people catch a glimpse of the neon “open” sign and the bright yellow sandwich-board out front that reads “Hand Made Gifts, Toys, Crafts, Etc.” — a good number of drivers stop to see what exactly is on display inside that truck.

“Sometimes, in one day I see just one person, sometimes 10,” he said. “I think I average 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 do this for my wife.”

Sandra Satule is the painter whose work is exhibited inside the large, 16-foot-high trailer, which Satula generally keeps open from 8 a.m. to around 10 p.m. at night. Unless he’s off on an errand or delivering a painting to a client, he can usually be found at the truck gallery, ready and waiting to show passing motorists around and to tell then about his wife’s work.

“She’s an artist. She lives to paint. She can’t live without it,” he said.

The couple, both originally from Lithuania, lost houses in two different 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, another fire,” Satula explained. “Before we bought it, I asked people if there have ever been fires there, near our second house, and people said not for the last 200 years. So we bought the house and five weeks later it was gone.”

Previous to the fires, Satule operated a more traditional art studio, in an actual building in Redding.

“In that first fire, she lost 60 paintings, and everything else,” Satula said. “We had 2 or 3 minutes to leave. We couldn’t save anything, so she lost all of her equipment, and then we bought it all again. And then, after the last fire, when she lost everything all over again, she got very depressed and said, ‘No. I’m not going to do it anymore.’”

For six months, Satula said, Satule could not 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 had been put up for sale in San Diego, Satula said.

“We went there. We drove down 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 came 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 notion of an art gallery inside a truck was enough to resuscitate 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 in 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 isn’t dry yet on any of them, she makes jewelry, or she makes toys. She’s always busy. It’s what makes her happy.”

Satule stays on the boat, a three-story yacht harbored in Rio Vista, in Solano County, and visits with new paintings every 10 days or so, Satula said. When visiting, she paints there in the truck, in a special studio space in the large cabin. Asked why he chose this particular spot off of Stage Gulch Road — which he rents from the property owner — on which to park the rig and establish their roadside art gallery, Satula’s answer is as simple as it is practical.

“It’s a big rig,” he said. “There are not that many places to stop and park.”

The unconventional arrangement suits him, he said. It keeps him busy, and he’s enjoys meeting people, though it can be something of a challenge to maintain such an operation inside a truck that, despite being large, still has limitations.

“I’m selling all the time, but the space I have is the space I have,” he said. “Like, yesterday I sold that one there.”

He points to an empty space on the wall of the truck. “That needs a 30 inch by 40 inch painting, so I called her 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 those.’ And next time she comes, we’ll have the paintings to fill the space.”