FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WPTA21) - Join us as we take this journey across 21Country, visiting the eleven counties of Northeast Indiana, meeting 11 artists and exploring the murals they created for the "Make it Your Own Mural Fest."
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Learn who's behind Mural Fest:
Under its Make It Your Own brand, the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership created Mural Fest, an eleven-day festival encompassing the eleven counties of Northeast Indiana, installing eleven murals.
The partnership promotes Northeast Indiana as a place to live and stay.
Their goal in Mural Fest was to show the region as a place that invests in art and the overall quality of life for people who call Northeast Indiana "home."
Meet the artists:
Born in Geneva and raise in Berne, artist Zach Medler returned “home” after being chosen to design and create the Adams County mural.
“I’ve done a lot of murals in smaller communities and its always a conversation, always,” Medler told us, “I always have an idea of what I want on the wall and they always have an idea of what they want on the wall, and that’s just really part of the game. I feel like because I come from a smaller community, because I am sort of adept to talking to people in smaller communities that’s a strength of my work.”
Jane Kaverman serves the Adams County Community Foundation.
She was instrumental in getting the artwork installed in Geneva.
Emphasizing Medler’s ties to the community, Kaverman told us the artist’s grandfather, taught her in driver’s education.
Medler’s piece celebrates the county’s tie to the Limberlost Marsh.
“We have at least six businesses with Limberlost in their name,” Kaverman said, “this marries it all together!”
Kaverman called the tribute to region’s ecosystem, a morale booster for the town of Geneva.
Medler, along with the help of two Mural Fest mentees, says the community was full of support.
“It's more than just like, coming back to the town I was born in. My family is still around the area. A lot of the people know me, even though I don't know who they are,” Medler explained “they come back and tell me, ‘I knew you when you were yeh big’ and its been a really fun experience to see people I haven't seen in decades... and we've really had a great crowd out here everyday I've been out here and its been fun.”
Garrett has a long history when it comes to the railroad industry.
Signs of its ties can be found all around town, especially with the mural freshly installed on the City Hall building.
Ricco Diamante is no stranger to creating detailed images.
His day-job after all, is as a tattoo artist.
But he reevaluated his priorities, both with his career and family, after the pandemic hit.
Diamante was out of a job for weeks, following the state’s stay-at-home order.
He began shifting his interests into large-scale public art.
A locomotive tattoo actually caught the interest of organizers, who asked him to apply.
Needless to say, he won DeKalb County’s vote.
“When I saw the scale of the wall I knew it was going to be an epic challenge,” Diamante told us, “and then they kind of told me the theme was 11 artists, 11 counties, 11 days. I was like oh wow! Here we go."
Though he has experience with spray paint, he chose standard house paint as his medium.
“I have experience as a graffiti artist but for me, the brush creates more of a texture. I have more control over the brush. I can sculpt the paint to create the shapes."
Diamante poured over his design before he began to install it, “With an engineering masterpiece like this locomotive... I spent a lot of time memorizing the image before I got here on the wall so I was familiar with the depth and caverns of the machinery. Just to know what I'm creating as I'm flowing with the paint."
Diamante, like other artists, shared what he though about during the dozens of hours he spent adorning what is surely the centerpiece of Garrett.
“I want to be proud, 20 years from now when I'm standing here with my sons looking at this wall and remembering what I was going through during the pandemic... remembering when how and why I said yes to this project.”
One of the goals of Mural Fest, is to celebrate what makes each county unique, and special to the Northeast Indiana.
And most artists had to learn the county they would spend 11 days in... except America Carrillo.
“It’s a small town. I knew everybody - mostly everybody,” the Huntington native told us.
She explained what sparked her interest in art, “I went to a garage sale as a kid and I saw Thomas Kincaid for the first time. I'm not a fan now but as a kid I thought it was the coolest thing I'd ever seen. I remember being inspired by art, not by so many artists in this town. I wanted to be that for this town."
Carrillo incorporated quails into her vibrant mural with plenty of colors making one of the county’s biggest and brightest art pieces, the center of attention.
The birds are a creative play on one of Huntington’s most well known connections to Washington: former Vice President Dan Quayle.
Carrillo was blunt on what she wanted her mural to be accepted by the community, “Sometimes people really want there to be a meaning behind it but I think with art it’s more about how you feel about it. I hate to dissappoint people but its not this huge underlying meaning, it's color and evoking emotion when you pass by it.”
Carrillo was assisted by Mural Fest mentee, Brooke Owens.
"I love what Northeast Indiana is becoming,” Owens said, “I've explored options of leaving but I'm definitely not opposed to staying. Its really amazing to see the blossoming effects of how much public art is coming.”
Huntington Mayor Richard Strick stopped by to check on Carrillo’s progress.
"Local art is a great way to help people connect with the community they live in,” Strick said, "people like being proud of the place they come from and art helps us do that.”
For Carrillo, painting a mural so large in her hometown is a dream come true.
"Its an honor. It's amazing. My whole family lives here and they walk by and see it everyday. I have little brothers and sisters and they are blossoming into artists right in front of me so that's really cool and I get to show them how to do it."
In downtown Fort Wayne, a giant bison mural decorates a building near The Landing.
The man behind that brush, Tim Parsley, was chosen to leave his mark in Kosciusko County.
The University of Saint Francis teacher shared the challenges of such large-scale paintings.
"The challenge is the surface - I think that’s always the challenging part because there’s a lot of little things you might look at and say ‘that’s a nice wall for a mural’ but then you get up close and realize there’s imperfections,” Parsley explained, “that’s some knuckle grinding work, getting in there and working on that. It seems to take forever and you’re ready to just paint, but you have to do that to try to make sure it will last as long as possible.”
Parsley says he tried to capture both the beauty, and recreation Warsaw and the surrounding area is known for.
“One of the first things you realize driving through - you can’t go left or right without seeing a lake,” he said, “and so its a very important aspect to the region.”
Parsley intends to use his own learning experience as a teaching lesson for his USF students, “I take all kinds of progress shots with these and walk them through it. When I teach the class on public art and mural painting they learn from concept to contract and all until the final creation of one of these things.”
In LaGrange County, retired DeKalb High School teachers Amy Buchs and Dave Schlemmer installed their artwork, on North Detroit Street in LaGrange.
It features two Holstein cows, with a radiant Lone Star quilt behind.
Buchs and Schlemmer both taught over three decades and use each other's unique sets of skills to pull off what will be a vibrant centerpiece for the community.
"I taught at DeKalb for around 30 years. The last 13 I taught CAD graphics, and that lends itself to a lot of the design work. Make no mistake about it, Amy is the artist, I just help her blow stuff up," said Schlemmer.
"When you teach art that many years, you're going to get good at it," explained Buchs. "You always say you're going to do this and this and this, but you never have time. But now, we have time!"
Buchs says she hopes the mural will give those who live in and around LaGrange a sense of pride.
She says their reception has been great. She and Schlemmer even let some children passing by paint spots on the cows.
New York-based artist Justin Suarez specializes in murals that celebrate wildlife and nature.
He applied to install Angola’s mural, with a vision to include three elements the area is known for: the loon, lake life, and Balloons Aloft.
“I started doing graffiti when I was 17,” Suarez explained as he spray painted and refined the loon’s feathers.
“I came to find that when I wasn’t writing my name on things there was people that actually liked what I was doing.”
Suarez prefers spray paint because of how quickly he can cover large areas of canvas.
He explained to us, his impressions of Steuben County.
“Angola is a super small, cute place, and in some ways it reminds me of the town I grew up in outside of Albany. I like it a lot,” he said, “the historic aspect of it is really beautiful.”
Residents like Dave Bruins, a photographer, shared their appreciation for the vibrant piece.
“It's great because it will be something everybody could enjoy they drive up and down this road, they'll be able to enjoy it,” he told us, “It will be great for the community."
Suarez told us how special it is to travel the country doing what he loves everyday.
“A place like this can be very different to paint then New York city of other metropolitan areas, just like, people's raw excitement because sometimes they don't even know what to call it. They've never seen a wall that's been painted on that scale. So, they have a lot of curiosity as to how that happens and about the process and how it can be possilbe to do something on that scale. And its really fun to travel to different cities to experience different parts of the country and leave a part of myself behind as I go.
International artist “Remix 1” was finishing up a project in Wichita, Kansas, when he applied for Mural Fest.
Born in Mexico City, Mexico, Remix 1 travels the world, leaving his artistic mark on each community he stops in.
Remix 1 told us when he thought of a bold subject to adorn North Manchester, he chose the bald eagle.
He later learned Wabash County was home to dozens of the majestic bird.
“Our river, the Wabash County River that flows into the Missenewa and Salamonie Reservoir, right now has 90 eagles that call home to the area,” Manchester Alive CEO Brooke Vanderpool explained.
“I was thinking about a way for me to empower the people,” Remix 1 told us, “that’s something that’s very important for most of my murals.”
He reflects on his life while working on his art pieces, “It's been about the journey of how I started. How it was in the beginning. Like when I started 18 years ago, everybody used to hate it. Everything has changed. Its cool to think that I can bring this art to people that probably in the beginning wouldn't agree to have something like this and now they appreciate it."
Portland, Oregon artist David Rice started painting public murals five years ago, beginning as an apprentice.
Now, he’s made a name for himself, attracting the attention of organizers in Northeast Indiana, who wanted to bring him to Bluffton in Wells County.
It was a first trip to Indiana for Rice.
He says the community embraced him, and hopes to be back again soon.
“Working on projects, in especially smaller communities and smaller towns, you really get to see how it effects the people that live there,” Rice said, “and it’s really fun to see their reaction and they really take you in and make you feel like one of your own, so definitely any chance I can go back to any of the places I've done a project in like that is definitely a blessing."
Rice worked with a Mural Fest mentee.
He told us he hopes to give back in mentorship, what he received at the start of his art career.
Several mural projects Rice was involved in were canceled due to the pandemic so he was greatful to participate in Mural Fest.
New York-based artist Shawn Dunwoody has returned to Northeast Indiana for Mural Fest.
Dunwoody has had artwork displayed in downtown Fort Wayne, and this week, he's in Columbia City.
Dunwoody is one of eleven artists installing murals in Northeast Indiana counties.
His project in Columbia City recognizes the creator of the "Show-You" soy sauce company, who called the city "home" for many years.
He hopes the mural will highlight the area's roots to Japan, while also showing you what's special about the city.
"When I approach a mural I try to do my research on the community. I try to hang out, because it's not really so much about what or how cool I can create, it's really about how the community engages with it, adopts it and owns it for themselves. After I'm gone, this belongs to the neighborhoods and residents and businesses here. And I want them to feel connected to it and proud of what they have," said Dunwoody.
Dunwoody says he's grateful to expand his connections in Northeast Indiana and that the community has been inviting during his stay.