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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Paint the Town

Heading west on Franklin Street between Fulton and Pigeon Creek has in recent years been a sterile mix of factories and workshops, with the odd retail or bar tossed in for good measure. But this isn’t just any street. It’s Franklin Street, a shining example of mom and pop ingenuity, where restaurants and bars thrive amidst strong grass roots support and the draw of great food and entertainment.

And on this otherwise unremarkable stretch sits the oasis of the Lamasco Bar and Grill and its enterprising owner Amy Rivers-Word. She just happens to be the president of the Franklin Street Events Association.

According to local artist Melissa Erwin, Rivers-Word held a contest to replace the fading and in ill repair mural on the side of the building at the time. She and her band of like-minded artists, Gary Hobdy, Amanda Sibrel, Steve Freeman, and Christopher Wilke jumped in with an entry.

“Amy wanted the image to act as a gateway to the West Side, so we photographed and sketched literally every building,” says Erwin. “I think we must have captured the spirit, because she chose our design.”

The mural, which features the distinctive image of Rivers-Word, seemed like it would never get going. “We were told we were chosen in November of 2013 and then proceeded to have the worst winter ever,” says Erwin. “And then summer was crazy wet, we finally got underway near the end of July.” It took six to seven weeks of actual work with interruptions for a very rainy season.

Erwin and her team worked together on the actual sketch, which was projected on the side of the building and traced.

“Our biggest challenge was that because we were working so far off the ground, we had to safely find a way to work at that height,” she says. “Scaffolding wasn’t practical so we really needed a lift, which is quite expensive and wasn’t in the budget.”

Mike Martin from Architectural Renovators in Evansville came to the rescue and donated a lift for the artists to use. “That was so important to us finishing this project. The building was so old, we needed to get up high to try to get rid of as much of the old paint and clean it up,” says Erwin. “We wanted to be somewhere between Art Nouveau and theme park map.” Bright yellow and reds frame the stylized view of the businesses on Franklin. Resting on the bottom frame is Amy Rivers-Word playing her guitar watching it grow. “We downsized Amy’s image upon her request, although this is about Lamasco, it is also about the Franklin Street scene,” says Erwin.

“They executed brilliantly, and I could not be more pleased with the outcome. It is beautiful,” says River-Word.

The mural coincided with another in the Jacobsville area, just off North Main. That project, by Indianapolis artist Artur Silva, is situated near the McDonald’s and came together driven by swatches of textiles brought in by members of the community. The result is a colorful and flowing swath of floral patterns that certainly catches the eye. Local resident and participant Leeanne Pease says, “It was more than just a mural. I went through lots of things I had forgotten about looking for meaningful fabric to donate to the design.”

Residents helped with the project whenever they could, with passersby stopping to encourage and admire the progress.
“It’s a warm and fuzzy feeling that you get when you see people come together, not just one group, but everyone pitching in for a common cause, it just felt like we were all directly involved,” says Pease.

“I hope this is the start of something where we can transform the more drab areas around town and help in the city’s self-esteem,” says Erwin. “People respond to murals, you are out there with them, it helps take an area into something that just isn’t a grey box.”

The group has been approached with some possible projects based upon their work at Lamasco. “I hope this is good for everyone, not just us, we need more of them,” says Erwin.

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