Mural, Mural on the Wall
Five Indianapolis artists contribute their talents to the 46 for XLVI mural project
The first creation of a colorful partnership between the Arts Council of Indianapolis and the city of Indianapolis became a reality last June when artists’ imaginations were set free along the White River Canal as part of the 46 for XLVI mural project.
Though the first 10 of 46 murals were created along the canal, the remaining murals can be seen in various locations around the city, says Kate Pell, marketing and public relations coordinator for the Arts Council.
“The project was an opportunity for Indianapolis to participate in a public art program,” Pell says.
This joint venture helps the city prepare to host Super Bowl XLVI by beautifying communities and elevating arts and culture. Council members chose 35 artists from more than 100 applications, carefully voting on diversity and style variety for the mural project.
“Of 35 artists, most are local,” Pell says.
Introducing out-of-state artists to the city and helping to successfully merge the high energy of Hoosier sports hospitality with the compelling beauty of the arts has proven to be a win-win effort. Each of the 46 murals is so unique that many individuals leave the comforts of their own neighborhoods “to go out and explore the murals in some of the other neighborhoods and communities,” Pell says.
Thousands will visit Indianapolis this month, greeted by the 46 for XLVI project –– and a message that the Super Bowl murals act as vehicles to bring people together.
Proudly sharing their talents, the following five artists, all from Indianapolis, took a few moments away from their sketch pads to discuss their personal inspiration and dedication to this highly visible public art project.
Rebecca Hutton, a self-taught photographer, proudly holds tight to her roots.
“I grew up in a family where people work hard with their hands,” she says of her father and uncles, who install drywall. “They take pride in their work. That really influenced my thinking.”
Her love affair with the arts initially began with dance.
“But as I was dancing, I discovered that I love doing outreach more than performing. I wanted outreach to be my focus.”
In 2000, she met her business partner, Dante Ventresca, who shared that love.
“And we’ve been working together ever since.”
Besides showcasing her photography, the mural project was a powerful way to challenge and excite Hoosier teens. Hutton embraced opportunities to teach youth, through photo documentation, how to think about and look at their world behind a camera lens and celebrate their community.
To launch the concept for the mural, she encouraged middle school and high school students to explore and reflect on their communities. As a group, they photographed new beginnings, such as the construction of an apartment complex for seniors and a neighborhood health center.
“I live near our mural on the northeast side,” Hutton says. “So I wanted it to be in the context of the neighborhood. What was important to me was that the project be approached as a high-quality arts program.”
Hutton’s mural, located on East 10th Street, is a constant splash of color, storytelling and the roots of neighborhoods and what they mean to the people who live there.
“These are photographs that the kids have taken and photos of me taking photos of them,” she says of the students’ work, more of which is now on display in various locations around the city. “These are simple beauties in the way the kids see the community, who they are and what they mean to the community.”
Where to find Hutton’s mural:
2015 E. 10th St.
Before making a final creative decision, Barbara Zech visited the designated mural spaces several times. She found herself continually drawn to the flowing water and the quiet way nature mixes so beautifully with an urban environment.
“The idea came to me from watching water drops in a puddle,” Zech says. “I then took that concept and made it into a pattern.”
In mid-August, Zech, who specializes in contemporary ceramics and handcrafted custom-tile murals, tirelessly created hundreds of tiles in her Indianapolis studio. By November, she had begun the installation. While she worked, people stopped to watch.
“It was just great,” Zech says. “So many people asked questions. They were curious about the finished product. As an artist, mosaic work is natural to me. But it was amazing to a great number of people passing by.”
Now complete, the amazingly intricate mosaic murals, circular designs that mimic the ripples and waves of the canal, are enjoyed by hundreds every week as they jog or walk along the waterway on Vermont Street.
A high school art teacher encouraged her to pursue her love for art, Zech recalls with a laugh. “That’s who I blame.”
After high school, Zech took her teacher’s advice and studied ceramics, sculpture work and papermaking at the Herron School of Art and Design.
Through the years, she has traveled the globe to feed a rather insatiable desire for learning. In Japan, she studied papermaking and ceramics as part of a Creative Renewal grant. She has also worked in clay tile studios in Malawi. Her creations brighten the IU Simon Cancer Center, Joy’s House and Community North Hospital.
“A lot of what I love about mosaic work is the technical quality of clay and doing something with my hands,” Zech says. “There are always new things to learn. It fascinates me.”
Where to find Zech’s work:
Along the downtown canal on Vermont Street
For many years, Barbara Stahl has provided the community with all sizes and shapes of murals, including anti-graffiti work for Keep Indianapolis Beautiful, mini-murals in school corridors, themed pieces at numerous parks and the schedule wall next to Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Speaking of the Pacers and Fever schedule wall, Stahl proudly notes an additional skill.
“I drive the big boom truck when I work on the wall,” she says with a laugh. “There aren’t a lot of women who drive those things.”
After completing her undergraduate work at Indiana University and master’s level study at the University of Pennsylvania, Stahl says the majority of artistic opportunities have come to her with pre-determined specifications.
This time, however, her vision was the only one associated with the blank canvas, which was an 80-foot by 9 1⁄2-foot section of the canal wall on West Ohio Street.
“I’ve done so many murals and portraits. But I’ve never really been hired to do a mural that was just mine,” she says. “I am so proud that I got to do this.”
When she initially went to the mural site, one idea floated around in her head as she began to sketch.
“But it felt forced.”
Stahl abandoned the first idea, opened her sketchbook and began to think about a magnolia tree she loved while living in Florida a few years ago.
“After it rained, those flowers would smell so good. I would drag a ladder out there and crawl up in the branches and sketch the magnolias. Maybe it was a kooky thing to do.”
Stahl would sit quietly to study the moss green canal water.
“I really wanted to play with that color,” she says. “And then the idea just started to flow. It was like magic. The color of the water was the No. 1 influence. I was really happy that I stuck with what felt right.”
She immediately went to work with “teeny-tiny brushes,” Stahl says. And the result is an intricately colorful space appropriately named “Morning Magnolias.”
“On a very calm day, you can see the reflection of the flowers on the water. It looks like the flowers are floating on the water. I put my heart and soul into that mural.”
Where to find Stahl’s mural:
Along the downtown canal below Ohio Street near the Indiana Historical Society
For Pamela Bliss, some of the best moments of life are experienced with a paintbrush in her hand 30 feet off the ground or higher.
On the side of a building on Massachusetts Avenue, Bliss recently completed a 38-foot-tall image of beloved Hoosier author Kurt Vonnegut.
“It’s almost easier for me now to do murals than other pieces,” she says. “It’s a very logical way of painting, but in abstract form. You’ve got a 25-foot-tall head with a nose that is 4 feet wide. I get to paint a little more impressionistically. But I usually get obsessed with little details.”
She is now adding finishing touches to a second mural, located on the wall of Musicians’ Repair and Sales at the corner of Capitol Avenue and Vermont Street.
“There will be seven or eight jazz musicians in the mural when it’s complete. These are the guys who played jazz on that corner back in the 1950s and ’60s,” Bliss says. “I am also painting the photographer who documented the history of jazz. I think he should be included in the mural. He was such an important part of documenting that time.”
When the weather and temperature comply with her paints, Bliss can usually be found standing on scaffolding. Her day begins by 7 a.m., but the amount of time she spends in the air is always a toss-up.
“A lot of artists are like that. They just get in the groove and forget about the time,” Bliss says with a laugh.
Originally from Wayne County, Bliss completed her undergraduate and master’s level work at Indiana University. Since 1998, she has worked as an adjunct professor of fine arts at IU. She also directs a mural and sculpture competition each year in her home county.
Bliss, a jazz fan herself, admits she had a long-time hankering to paint jazz musician Wes Montgomery before relocating in 2000 to Indianapolis. Painting larger-than-life memories of Montgomery and other talents has been a thrill.
“When a city displays public art, it makes the city seem more conscious and open-minded, making it more appealing to locals and visitors,” she says. “These murals will become part of Indiana’s history.”
Where to find Bliss’ murals:
345 Massachusetts Ave. and 322 N. Capitol Ave.
Growing up the oldest of eight children, Amy Rheinhardt’s family life was hectic and noisy. But she still heard that inner voice –– the one that assured her that her destiny in life had a lot to do with paintbrushes and color.
After high school, Rheinhardt left her hometown of Richmond to attend the Herron School of Art and Design, where she won numerous local and regional honors. Before making her home and launching her career in Indianapolis, Rheinhardt left her mark on her family’s community by creating two murals there.
Because murals are viewed as public art, more opinions and inspirations are often at work, says this freelance muralist.
This is the case for two of Rheinhardt’s murals, set to be installed at Concord Urban Farm. To finalize creative decisions for the projects, she diligently worked with several people to reach a shared vision with a folk-art flavor.
Because the project involved helping hands from the 2011 Eli Lilly Day of Service, Rheinhardt also created specific sections that volunteers painted. With so many hands involved, the Concord murals will give a new dimension of ownership to those in the community who helped create them.
“A mural is definitely a challenge,” she says. “It’s a whole different animal, really, than painting on canvas.”
An additional mural, located in Broad Ripple, involved the expert skills of Rheinhardt’s husband, Jeremiah Jackson, who is also an artist. Together, they created an intricate story of color and characters.
Pregnant with their second child and due to deliver in March, Rheinhardt says she and her husband used the mural-painting time as a date night when they could secure a baby-sitter for 19-month-old Lucy.
Participating in the 46 for XLVI project has not only been a professional perk, but also a personal validation for how art defines her life.
“I can’t be content for very long if I’m not creating art in one way or another,” she says. “It’s definitely a big part of me.”
Where to find Rheinhardt’s murals:
Concord Urban Farm, South Meridian Street and Bluff Road, and Broad Ripple, corner of Broad Ripple and Carrollton avenues