TERRE HAUTE —
Four artists gathered in downtown Marshall, Ill. on Thursday to begin painting a mural depicting a stone arch bridge on the Historic National Road.
Standing on a scissor lift, Scott Lindley, Mike Meyer and Doug Haffner painted greenery and blue skies on the side wall of the Clark County Genealogical Library at 521 Locust St.
The mural will measure 13 feet by 22 feet.
Meanwhile, Nancy Bennett mixed paints to create an olive-colored acrylic, which would help bring the bridge to life. The real stone arch bridge still exists on old U.S. 40, just west of town.
The sign and mural artists are known as “Walldogs,” and Marshall is getting its first “Walldog” mural — although it probably won’t be the last.
Walldogs are a group of sign and mural artists from all over the globe. The sign painters call themselves “Walldogs” because back in the heyday of hand-painted advertising murals on barns and brick buildings, they “worked like dogs” in the summer heat on precarious perches.
The Walldog “movement” began in Allerton, Iowa, in 1993 and was hosted by Bennett. An estimated 400 to 500 artists are now part of that movement.
In Marshall, the four Walldogs will be painting the mural during the Autumn Festival and expect to conclude their work Sunday.
Looking to the future, the plan is to have an international Walldog meet in Marshall in June 2016, when Walldogs from across the country and even from other countries would gather and create about 10 to 12 murals in town.
“We find that communities want public art,” said Lindley, a Marshall native who now lives in Mount Pulaski. “It really helps a community out” and becomes a great tourist attraction.
Meets are conducted annually at different locations, and one took place at Kewanee, Ill. in July. Lindley, also known as “Cornbread,” said he already has commitments from overseas painters to come to Marshall in three years.
“Illinois is the Walldog capital of America,” he said.
On Wednesday night, downtown Marshall turned off the streetlights, so the Walldogs could project and hand-trace the huge image on the building wall. The public will be able to watch the Walldogs during the festival.
The artists used a National Road poster to design the public art project.
The mural “is our teaser, and in 2016 we’d like to do 10 additional murals,” said Jennifer Bishop, executive director of the Marshall Area Chamber of Commerce.
Such an international meet could bring about 150 to 230 painters, their families and many tourists. “It would be a huge boost and it would bring quite a bit of tourism to the area,” she said.
The state of Illinois is looking at doing a Walldog tour brochure, and tourists could visit the various communities that have Walldog murals.
The Marshall community received donations to fund its first Walldog mural, which costs $10,000.
Bishop and some other volunteers, including Jim Ryan, have put some physical labor into the project. About two weeks ago, they powerwashed the wall, then primed and painted it, in preparation for the mural.
The community is taking notice, she said. “It’s really cool. I love seeing all the faces of people driving by and stopping, just kind of in awe,” she said.
Ryan, who also stood watching, said the community is excited about it. The mural project brings people together, he said.
Former Marshall Mayor Ken Smith was instrumental in bringing the Walldogs to town. “We just felt Marshall needed something a little unique to help with tourism,” he said.
Casey has the world’s largest windchime and golf tee, attractions that help get people off I-70 to visit, he said. Marshall hopes to get people off the interstate to see its historic Harlan Hall, home to the National Road Welcome Center, and its new and future Walldog murals.
Lindley, who has been working with Walldogs for several years, said the group “is kind of saving an art form.”
Typically, the murals have a historic theme. “We may tell a story about something that no longer exists in the town,” he said. “Unfortunately, too many towns lose their history over the years. This is how we re-introduce it to a community.”
The group also seeks to “continue the handpainted sign movement,” he said.
Lindley has been involved in many mural projects. “We do it because we’re passionate about it,” he said.
This summer, Bennett has worked on six murals in Michigan, Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin.
She enjoys being part of Walldogs. “We get a chance to see other parts of the world, and for me, we meet up with our friends and do something we love.”
Almost all murals relate to something historical about a community. “We learn so much about the community when we go there,” she said.
Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or firstname.lastname@example.org.