Friday, September 24, 2010

Newton - "The Imagineers"

Thanks again to Matt, Erika, Nick, and all the folks in Newton and North Newton for their support in seeing "The Imagineers" come to life. Below are images of the completed mural. Enjoy.

photo by Jim Wimmer

Monday, September 20, 2010

Newton - mural celebration photos

It was a fabulous day. The weather, beautiful. The turnout, over 200. And the spirit, including a sweet dance performance accompanied by live music, just heartwarming. Many people spoke about the project including Barb Burns, Rachel Epp Buller, Erika Nelson, Joe Loganbill, and Bethel College President Perry White. You can read some of their comments in the Newton Kansan article published today.

Here are some of my comments from the program handed out at the celebration:

Approaching the mural, one sees a group of people around a table engaged in the process of building, playing, restoring, and imagining. These figures are symbolic of the Newton/ North Newton community. They are not based on particular individuals so much as they are composites of the many and varied peoples of the area. This group. This family. This community. They have chosen to address the important questions of their town's identity, history, and future, and they are actively working to better understand who they are and what they wish to become. So, this mural is not so much a literal transcribing of history or an enumeration of the individuals and architecture already known, as it is an evocation of an idea or a visual poem that attempts to capture the spirit of an energized and optimistic community choosing to become a better place for all of its citizens.

Dance performance by the Newton Dance Project choreographed by Sara Dick.

Thank you to everyone who worked so hard to make this such a great project. Now, all I've got to do is varnish that darn thing in the morning and we can call it good.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Newton Mural Celebration

Please Join Us
to Celebrate the Completion of

The Imagineers

Sunday, September 19th
4 pm

3rd & Main
(just south of the train depot)
Newton, Kansas

Monday, September 6, 2010

Newton - Painting

Transferring the design is really not as hard as it looks, well at least not since digital projectors have been around. To go from 30 x 80 inches to 30 x 80 feet, we took a photo of our line drawing, tinkered with it (well Matt and Erika tinkered with it) a bit in photoshop, and then projected it onto the wall to the delight of insects and makers of giant shadows.

It's the morning after the free wheeling transfer party when things appear a little shakier. Looking at what we had copied, the lines were way less precise than we thought the night before. In some places it was hard to tell a nose from a thumb or a suitcase handle from a bridge... But, that's normal. Like humming a few bars of a new song, without lyrics or instruments, it can be hard to imagine the completed painting when all that's there are the rough outlines of the design.

Blocking in big areas of color helps to clarify the basic elements of the design quickly. It also establishes the mural's value structure and color harmony from which the rest of the painting will be developed. And blocking in these big shapes is relatively easy so it's a great time to have what we call "community paint days." Newton, it seems, was more than ready to get their brushes to the wall, because on our first community paint day over eighty people showed up to get their licks in. And that was followed the next day by over a hundred. To date, over two hundred and fifty people have helped paint on Newton's new mural.

While passersby and volunteers work below, we painted from scissor lifts above. In these early stages of painting, I spend my time mixing and mixing and mixing paint. Mixing the right amount (so you don't have to re-mix and re-mix) of the right color at the right value takes practice, and it's easy to mis-mix and end up with a gallon of unusable muck.
So, like a bartender, I stand behind the paint table handing out concoctions such as burnt sienna cooled with a medium violet tint or chromium green dirtied with cadmium orange. And in a transformation that seems to happen overnight, the white of the wall gives way to color.

After the mural has been completely filled in with one layer of color, it's time to project the details of the design on top of the existing painting. More fun can be had with shadows, since now they have images to interact with as Matt demonstrates below.

From here on out, the areas to paint are smaller, the decisions about color and value tougher to make, and the chances of making things look really weird much much greater. " Why does that girl have an eye in her nose?", I heard once. But, this is also the stage when the painting starts to come into its own and I usually breathe a sigh of relief knowing it's probably going to look pretty cool.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Newton - Behind the Scenes

As the painting process gets into full swing and our days come and go with us perched like amateur circus performers atop wavering scissor lifts, we've taken to spending the precious few hours we have off with some of Newton's second tier cultural offerings, among them: The (seldom heard) Legend of Newton's Cusped Cutlery.

To begin, let's be very clear: The Nork* (actually spelled Knork) is not a spork.

The story goes (if you believe in stories) that some thirty or forty or fifty years ago two young friends growing up in Newton, who also happened to be novice inventors, stumbled onto the idea (while attempting to eat artisan pizza) of marrying the fork's capacity for impaling with the knife's obsession with cutting. After years or months or weeks of r & d, the friends each came up with an elegant design solution - a single utensil that appeared at first glance to be only a fork, but when turned revealed a tapered edge suitable for cutting. Their inventions were identical in every way except in name, where one called his the Fife, the other called his new tool the Nork.

History has buried the heartbreaking story of what followed, for these two young men had dismissed the age old adage that friends, if they want to remain so, should never go into business together. Looking through an old newspaper, we discovered the shocking story. The headline from way back then screams at the reader - "INVENTOR STABBED BY NORK! " What unpoetic justice. The newspaper in its arrogance or ineptitude had misnamed the weapon. The inventor was stabbed, but not by a Nork. It was instead the one and only existing prototype of the Fife, its inventor so distraught over losing the name game (and a potential fortune from wedding registries and school lunchrooms) that he lashed out against his childhood friend.

A friendship broken beyond repair, the Fife's inventor (after serving a reduced jail term - he claimed the stabbing an accident while playing an old parlor game) disappeared, while the Nork continues to grow its market share, pushing aside knives and forks at many Newton dinner tables. A compelling story for sure, but obviously not suitable for a community mural, and so it will most likely fade away into the shadowy realm of forklore and myth where it clearly belongs.

*names have been changed to protect innocent tableware

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

"Mennonite Settler" newspaper article

Since the Mennonite Settler sculpture is included in our mural design, I thought it would be helpful to include this article, which, coincidentally, was published just a couple days after I had written about it in the entry titled 'Monumental Research.'

(from the NewtonKansan)
August 31, 2010

Then and Now: Newton’s statue in the park is stimulating art

By Keith Sprunger

The Mennonite Settler Statue in Athletic Park came to Newton in 1942 as a part of an early “Government Stimulus Program.” Last spring, when Congress was debating the current economic stimulus program, a Lawrence newspaper ran an article and photo about the New Deal stimulus programs of the 1930s and 1940s. It pointed to our Athletic Park statue as an example of government stimulus art from previous times. This gave Newton a bit of fame in art circles for a day or two. Newton has stimulating art.

Economic stimulus programs usually aim at big enterprises, such as auto plants and banks.
But, as Roosevelt’s New Deal saw it, art also needed to be stimulated. Artists also deserved to have work. The Work Projects Administration, or WPA, through the New Deal years employed millions of workers on various public projects. Art projects were included. In 1940, the Junior Chamber of Commerce was looking for a project to boost Newton. WPA funds were available. The Newtonians decided a Wheat Memorial statue in the park would be nice. It would honor the Newton area as a center of wheat production.

The memorial would honor wheat in three ways. It was to honor Bernhard Warkentin as the importer of wheat from Russia, the Santa Fe Railroad for transporting the wheat and the Mennonite farmers who grew the wheat. The WPA would pay the salary of the sculptor, but the cost of limestone and other materials would have to be paid for locally. No large gifts materialized, so the Junior Chamber members had to go out looking for money dollar by dollar and bushel by bushel of wheat. Two local beauty queens, Betty Dester and Hazel Phillips, called the Wheathearts of America, helped considerably with fund raising. They went around to farms by truck at harvest time asking for a few scoops or bushel of wheat from the fields to help with the project. The community rallied. The money came in.

The statue was not completed until 1942. The sculptor was Max Nixon, a native of Haverhill in Butler County and unemployed at the time. The WPA approved him. He produced a stylized, limestone Mennonite wheat farmer mounted on a reddish cement shaft, and these were placed on a circular mosaic. The entire monument stands 17 feet tall. Max Nixon, on his own initiative, modified the emphasis of the monument. He featured the hard-working wheat farmer, not the Santa Fe or Warkentin, the wealthy miller. I never met Max Nixon, who later taught at the University of Oregon, but I talked with him by telephone several times. I asked him about shifting the emphasis to the Mennonite farmer, rather than the other suggested themes. He said he grew up on a farm and knew the value and ardor of hard farm work. “I wanted to give the farmers the idea that I really appreciated them,” he said. “I wanted to honor the laboring people rather than corporate wealth.” Nixon died in 2000.

The statue is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.In 2000, it underwent a major restoration, necessitated because of damage from weather and vandalism. When the statue was unveiled at the dedication on Sept. 10, 1942, there was a gasp from the crowd. The social realism style was not what was expected. Over time, it has gained acceptance and real affection. It’s a great piece of stimulus art. Our current mural project on Main Street is giving Newton another project of stimulus art. Thank you.

Keith Sprunger is a member of the Historic Preservation Commission.