Great Happening:

Ultimate Transformation – Part 2

River of Many Fish mural taking form in downtown Ashtabula

Art got a lift Tuesday morning in downtown Ashtabula as installation of the 30-foot tall mural designed by Minneapolis artist Greta McLain was installed on the side of the Ultimate Appearance Salon building.

Ashtabula Arts Center Visual Arts Director Linda Merchant along with Cleveland Heights artist Sam Pearce and Eanonn McLain had the first six of the 24 mural panels installed by 2:30 p.m. The worked in a lift loaned to the project by Capp Steel Erectors, the only practical way to install the 5-by-5-foot panels that were painted by community members on Sunday and Monday.

The mural was designed by McLain’s sister, Greta, of Minneapolis, who worked on additional panels back at the Ashtabula Arts Center. Greta was commissioned to produce the city’s first public art mural. Discussions with her began two years ago, says Meeghan Humphrey, executive director of the Ashtabula Arts Center. She says the project had to pass muster with the Ashtabula City Council before they could proceed with the project.

Merchant says McLain’s approach gets the community involved in the creation of public art. The murals are painted one panel at a time, in an approach similar to the paint-by-number concept. Citizen artists fill in the colors during the public painting parties.

A mural panel is raised and glued into place on the side of a downtown Ashtabula building Tuesday afternoon.

After a public party in the Main Avenue parking lot on Sunday, Greta took the project to the Ashtabula Senior Center and Ashtabula After School Discovery programs on Monday. Merchant said one of the great benefits of this approach to public art is that it allows people of all ages and handicaps to participate. Seniors and young children who could not climb a ladder to participate in painting a mural were able to add their brush strokes to this effort.

The process of installing the acrylic panels is time consuming and exacting. Similar to hanging wallpaper on a big building, installation requires application of an adhesive to both the back of the panel and the building. The panel is worked into the substrate so the brick surface’s grooves and cracks become part of the art. Architectural features of the building, such as windows and the metal stars, are incorporated into the mural.

The mural, three stories high, is taking form from the top down.

After all of the panels are installed, Greta will blend together the pieces by painting the seams. A protective coat will be applied; the mural should last for more than two decades. The entire project should be completed by Saturday, Sept. 16.

The Ohio Arts Council, Ashtabula Foundation and Ashtabula Downtown Development Association provided funding and support for the project, spearheaded by the Arts Center. Humphrey says the overarching plan is to have this first mural be the start of a citywide, even countywide, mural placement movement that will bolster tourism as well as civic pride.

To that end, McLain offered a workshop for area artists on Saturday, Sept. 9, at the Arts Center. The workshop provided instruction in the process and materials used to create the public art murals.

“We now have a group of artists who can call upon each other to assist with projects when they are ready to go up,” Pearce says.

Eleven artists, eight of them from Ashtabula County, attended the workshop and assisted with painting.

“This is the first one. Who wants to be next?” Pearce says.

Merchant says the artists are pumped to do another one.

“It’s just a matter of fund raising,” she says.




About Carl (329 Articles)
Carl Feather is lodging tax administrator for Ashtabula County and the founder of The Wave newsletter. He is 25-year newspaper industry veteran and frequent contributor to West Virginia's Goldenseal Magazine. He enjoys photography and videography, which he shares at his blog,, and his Feather Cottage You Tube channel.
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