When art goes big murals in Summit
For many of us, the word “mural” conjures up images of Mexican muralist Diego Rivera sitting high up on the scaffolding, creating magnificent visual socio/political commentaries on the walls of buildings throughout the world during the first half of the 20th century. Today’s muralists may not receive the worldwide press that Rivera and his artist-colleagues did, but murals are still a vital part of the American arts scene – whether they’re created as an inner-city community outreach effort, or crafted by a local artist to reflect a small town’s historic past.And here in Summit County, murals are continuing to thrive, thanks to a handful of local artists and several imaginative business owners.Food Hedz World Cafe plays host to a 21-foot-long mural created by local artist Sheila Trowbridge, from whom the work was commissioned by restaurant chef/owner David Welch. Welch, an art lover, had already purchased several works by Trowbridge for his private collection at home, and decided to approach her about doing a large-scale work for his Frisco restaurant. Trowbridge took home three 7-foot panels from the walls of the restaurant, and returned a week later with a completed mural, which was put in place in time for the restaurant’s reopening this past November.In its design scheme, Trowbridge incorporated not only local animal life but also images of restaurant staff members as well – an inside joke which Welch says amuses his customers.”They think it’s unique,” he said. “They like the food theme, and they also like the colors. They say that the mural relaxes them.”
Thanks to business owners like Welch, other local artists are kept busy as well – artists such as Lorna Babcock, who started creating murals around a decade ago, when her work as a commercial artist segued into larger-scale projects.”I used to do a lot of commercial and menu art for restaurants like Chili’s, and I branched into painting on walls,” she said. “It was awesome. I loved the expansion of the artwork, and having all that empty space to deal with. There’s something about doing it and then being able to step back and look at it and think, ‘I did that’.” Babcock created a dolphin-themed outdoor mural at the Frisco Fairgrounds soon after moving to Summit County. Today, as owner of Reality Creations, the artist spends much of her time doing residential projects, creating wall and ceiling artwork in homes. “It’s enveloping people into your vision,” she said. “And when they invite you in their homes or business, you have to get into their head, because it’s going to be on their wall – it’s not something they can put away. It has to be personal to them as well.”One of the best-known local muralists is artist Bonnie Norling-Wakeman, who switched over to mural painting 13 years ago after her husband, faux painter Joe Wakeman, encouraged her to do some decorative wall painting for a residential design scheme.Soon, the artist began getting commissions – not just for homes, but for businesses as well.”It took on a life of its own,” Norling-Wakeman confessed. “I’ve been an artist all my life but this is like coming full circle. All the portrait and landscape and illustration work I’ve ever done shows up in murals, and I get to do every style of art and every subject matter.”Each mural project is tailor-made to the client who commissions it – a concept that Norling-Wakeman said she truly enjoys working with.
“That’s the most fun about it – I get to discuss it with my clients and we envision the mural together,” she said. “I become their hands when I create it.”Norling-Wakeman is perhaps best known for her murals at the BigHorn Home Improvement Center in Silverthorne. Commissioned by Don Sather, the three murals represent big horn sheep, buffalo, and other local fauna and flora. Of all of her works, the artist said that one of her favorites is the mural she created at the Summit County Animal Shelter, representing the Rainbow Bridge – that famed meeting place where pets and their owners ultimately reunite in the afterlife. Norling-Wakeman said that pet owners grieving over the loss of their companions sometimes come over to visit the mural and are comforted by the story.This type of highly-personal reaction, Norling-Wakeman said, is the best thing about being a muralist.”Everyone has a different reaction as something about the mural hits them,” she said. “That’s the beauty about sharing artwork with the public. It speaks to everyone differently.”Another rewarding project for Norling-Wakeman was a commission from Summit Cove Elementary. Thirty students were chosen to work with the artist on a mural featuring the natural history of Summit County, incorporating the wetlands, the animals and the mountain scenery all along the Tenmile Range.According to Breckenridge arts administrator Jenn Cram, The Summit Foundation has funded several murals commissioned by the Summit Arts Council to be put in schools as part of its Focus on the Child program. In addition to the one at Summit Cove, another mural was created at Silverthorne Elementary by local artist Cecelia Eidemiller. The most recent mural funded by the program was installed at Breckenridge Elementary by artist Lisa Kohlhepp, and features ceramic tiles, hand-painted by each child in the school, and representing local wildlife scenes.
According to Cram, an annual school mural project may eventually be in the works for all Summit County schools, with Summit Middle School next on the list.”Our goal is to put a permanent piece of art in all the schools,” Cram said. “It’s great for the kids, because it’s an arts project that they get to participate in.”In the meantime, local artists such as Norling-Wakeman are hoping that mural projects may become more popular not only in schools, but also in businesses and public areas throughout Summit County.”I would love to do another outdoor one, but it’s tough in Summit County because the property values are high,” Norling-Wakeman said. “But there are a lot of old buildings here just waiting to be painted on.”If the murals are done well, people will come from all over to look at them,” she added. “I think this would be great for Summit County. Its time will come. It just hasn’t – yet.”
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