Several Iowa communities will have new murals symbolizing their town in bright colors and designs by the summer’s end. Four University of Iowa students — Alexis Beucler, Drew Etienne, Katlynne Hummell and Ali Hval — are making it happen.
Beucler, a third-year painting MFA student from Florida, is finishing up a mural in Mechanicsville featuring a soybean field, a cornfield, a flat horizon and patriotic colors. Next, she’ll delve into projects in Iowa City and Stanwood.
Seeing public art and murals can help people think about and remember a specific place, Beucler said. The brights murals currently in Iowa City help to remind her of home.
“Sometimes, I go out of my way to drive past the murals (in Iowa City), and it brightens my day,” she said.
The four students took part in the Grant Wood Public Art Residency program during the University of Iowa’s spring break last March. As an extension of that program, the University of Iowa Office of Outreach and Engagement connected the students with communities, six in Cedar County and a few others in the area, to create public art pieces.
Etienne, a second-year painting MFA student from Indiana, said the residency program took place over an intense week that taught many different aspects of public art, from the purpose and ownership of public pieces to what material are best to use.
“I learned more in that week than I had in my whole life,” he said with a laugh.
He will be completing murals in Tipton and Maquoketa over the summer.
Working on these murals isn’t like creating pieces in a studio, he said. Instead, everyone wants to be involved in a mural that will be connected to their home.
“You’re more invested when public art involves your place,” Etienne said. “Your location is where you are, but your place is what you’re proud of and invested in, where you have roots.”
Hval, an Alabama native who graduated last spring with a painting and drawing MFA, is working on murals in West Branch, Webster City and Keokuk. She said that all the Cedar County murals will be united in a postcard-style appearance that also allows each artist some creative freedom.
Like the other artists over the past few months, she has been involved in multiple discussions with each community about the exact mural designs and where they should be located.
“The fastest part is the painting. The slowest part is actually starting,” she said.
However, she said it’s important to tour the areas the mural will go in to get to know the community before beginning a public art project.
Painting the murals also brings out residents to help and check in during the work, Hval said. In West Branch, she said some people came to help her with lifting and placing big boards, as well as priming and varnishing the wall.
Hummell, who graduated with a BFA in painting and drawing in May, is working on murals in Lowden and Clarence.
She grew up in Eldon, Iowa, which she said didn’t have any public art. One day, she said a woman decided to paint a mural on the side of an ice cream shop, and Hummell has been interested in public art ever since seeing it.
The designs for the Lowden and Clarence murals are still being discussed between Hummell and members of the respective communities.
“It’s a very community-organized process,” she said. “It’s really important to get the community involved.”