Artist Ryan “ARCY” Christenson’s mural of a B-29 bomber pilot was taking shape Monday when he took a break to visit with local residents. The mural on the building at the corner of Forest and Williams shows a pilot and planes flying above golden wheat, paying tribute to the men and women based in Barton County during World War II.
“I’m a street artist, so I do a lot of large-scale work,” ARCY said. The Connecticut native spends about eight months out of the year on the road, spray painting walls throughout North America, Australia and Europe. For the last couple of years, he has done more work in communities large and small.
“There’s so much gratitude and appreciation,” he said of the reception he receives in rural communities. “You don’t see that in big communities.”
Part of the inspiration for the Great Bend mural came from a 1940s poster. “I was able to merge it with my style and give it a more contemporary look,” he said.
One of his trademarks is to include “hidden” Mickey Mouse heads in his paintings. He started adding those for his children back home to see but adults like to find them, too. He also has a professional relationship with Disney Fine Art.
The Great Bend mural is the first public art project sponsored by the new Barton Arts Movement. BAM member Rachel Mawhirter the group plans to spearhead other murals in Barton County but she also hopes businesses and individuals will be inspired to create public art on their own.
The building at Forest and Williams is a good example of a local collaboration, she said. It is owned by local contractor Andy Mingenback with Brentwood Builders, and his employees spent hours adding stucco and primer to the wall ahead of the artist’s arrival.
Working on a tight deadline and knowing their work would be covered by the mural, Brentwood used tinted stucco. The combination of different “mis-tints” also saved money, and the workers made a colorful pattern on the wall that was also eye-catching.
“We want to break the stereotype of what small towns look like,” Mawhirter said, adding the movement is gaining momentum at the same time as community efforts that include a consumption zone near the new mural and the potential for loft apartments downtown.