Old and new murals, mosaics portray local history in unlikely public places

COLUMBUS – Floodwalls in Ohio have become a new venue for the kind of public artistic expression that portrays a community’s past and links it with the present.

They are joining the tiled mosaics and painted murals from an era past that are still found on the walls of many post offices or libraries and gracing the sides of buildings, a kind of community beautification combined with the proud proclamation of local history.

And the new floodwall are is in many cases as truly spectacular as were some of the first public art murals. Finding these paintings could be a trip of discovery.

Portsmouth. More than three dozen murals spanning 2,000 years of history line the Portsmouth, Ohio, floodwall.

These grandiose paintings capture the beginning of the Hopewell Native American culture, early city settlement, famous local people, and industry that grew up along the river. They were all painted by Robert Dafford, an internationally recognized muralist.

He began the project in 1993 with the longest mural, a 20-foot by 160-foot scene of Portsmouth in 1903. After seven years, 44 murals have been completed, and the process continues.

Steubenville. Steubenville, the city that inspired Portsmouth’s painting project, boasts an equally impressive collection of enormous art works. Though fewer in number, these 24 murals feature a variety of different subjects and artists.

Painters have traveled from as far away as Canada and Scotland to create scenes of local businesses, amusements and cityscapes throughout Steubenville’s history.

Murals are scattered throughout the city allowing visitors to discover them randomly. Those who want to make sure they see all the images can pick up a guide at the local visitors’ center.

On Ohio River. Two communities spanning the Ohio River have created a heritage mural program to commemorate the agricultural, historical and industrial legacies of the area. Meigs County, Ohio, and Mason County, West Virginia, commissioned muralist Sarah Alexander to design several panels showcasing the area’s natural beauty.

Alexander’s designs resulted from residents’ input and careful first-hand study. Several members of the community lent their time to help paint the mural at the comer of Main and Sycamore Streets in Pomeroy, Ohio.

Just up the Ohio River in Marietta, an artist and 300 school children provided inspiration and helping hands to create murals connecting the town’s past and present.

Geoff Schenkel collected sketches from local children to help him visualize the important elements of the community. Then the children assisted him with the design and layout of the murals. Each child contributed to the canvas and helped paint the final project.

Corridor of murals. Building on the success of the project in Marietta, Schenkel has been working with additional communities to develop a corridor of murals in southeastern Ohio.

Grove City, just outside Columbus, will in September install a mural depicting the town as it was in 1924. David Maple, an award-winning, local artist, was selected to create the streetscape with trolleys and other fixtures of the era.

Behalt has been nicknamed the “Sistine Chapel of the Amish and Mennonites.” Located within the Mennonite Information Center in Berlin, Ohio, Behalt is a cyclorama illustrating the origin, persecution and culture of the Amish, Mennonites and Hutterites.

Artist Heinz Gaugel’s detail and color selections make this 10-foot by 265-foot painting an experiential piece of art as well as a living history of these religious faiths.

Gaugel also created a 22-foot high by 30-foot wide mural on the building’s exterior using a technique called sgraffito. This mural was carved from four layers of colored plaster.

From an ornate past. The Cincinnati Museum Center, formerly Union Station, holds a truly exceptional mosaic. The formidable rotunda, said to be the largest half-dome in the Western Hemisphere, is the entryway for three museums and an OMNIMAX theater.

And in the rotunda, created for the railroad station that it once was, is a series of intricate mosaic murals made of tiles and painted stucco. Scenes depict the settlement and development of Cincinnati,

Post office art. The local post office may seem an unusual place to find artwork, but the Federal Art Project of the 1930s put unemployed artists to work decorating federal buildings including more than 60 post offices in Ohio.

The scenes range from the simple amusement of skating on a frozen pond to grimy steel mill compositions. Many of them reflect an attitude of pulling together and supporting one another during that economically depressed era. A similar federal program allowed the Cleveland Public Library to commission works of art. The main library features canvas pieces showing early methods of transportation.

Further information on sites to visit or Ohio travel information call the Ohio Division of Travel and Tourism at 800-BUCKEYE, or visit us on the tourism Web site at www.OhioTourism.com.

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