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Local artist captures Cheyenne Bottoms in downtown mural
Melanie Ryan Painting
Local artist Melanie Ryan works to create a mural of Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area on the west wall of the Odd Fellows building at 2019 Forest Ave. - photo by Daniel Kiewel

Local artist Melanie Ryan describes herself as a “cracker jack” artist with widely varied creative talents and interests. And now she has set out to apply that creativity to what she describes as the largest canvas she has ever tackled.

Enter the west wall of the old Great Bend Odd Fellows building at 2019 Forest Ave., now home to Forest Ave. Antiques. The wall, once a canvas to a long-deteriorating mural, will soon be home to Ryan’s colorful 2,256 square foot take on Barton County’s iconic Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area.

Ryan, a Larned native, said the massive mural project is one she has been wanting to take on since her and her family relocated to Great Bend in 2004.

Ryan and her husband Chris own a staffing service, Sunrise Staffing, which is housed on the second floor of Forest Ave. Antiques, and Ryan has several pieces of artwork on display at the business as its local artist. In the course of her daily work, she said, she noticed the mural that previously adorned that wall had been deteriorating for several years.

“(I thought) let’s just clean this up. It’s run down,” she said. “It wasn’t anything on my bucket list, it just looked like it needed to get done.”

So she decided to approach the building’s owners, Valley Lodge No. 95, the Great Bend chapter of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, with a concept she’d had for several years to paint a massive mural depicting a silhouetted landscape of the area’s iconic Cheyenne Bottoms.

The vision for the project to have the marsh’s iconic grasslands against a bright multicolored sky, with several of the area’s native game and waterfowl silhouetted against the idyllic backdrop, including bucks, Canadian geese, and pheasants. She also said there will also be a Kansas specific “hidden feature” within the work once it is completed.

Ryan said the group was enthusiastic about the concept, and even completed the work of prepping the wall for new paint prior to her beginning the work.

“I was very honored they let my concept to come on through,” Ryan said.

Once the group approved the idea, Ryan was able to secure “a substantial amount of funding” though several private donors to allow her vision for the project to come to fruition. Ryan is also donating her time and labor to paint the new mural.

Once completed, the mural will cover a space nearly 18 feet tall and 126 feet long along the west wall of the building. Though “life happens” she noted, Ryan hopes to have the mural completed in the next couple of weeks.

“But don’t hold me to (that timeframe),” she joked.

About the artist

As an artist, Ryan wryly quipped that, “my art background doesn’t exist.”

Aside from her and her husband’s downtown staffing business, Ryan also has a passion for singing, having led worship at Community Christian Church on the west side of Great Bend for more than 30 years.

The mother of two grown children and grandmother said artistic creativity is something that runs in her family. “I’m not (even) the best artist in my house,” she acknowledges.

Artistically, Ryan said she has an array of artistic interests, including a passion for reclaiming, reproposing and refurbishing, which includes refurbishing old furniture. 

“I love the idea of creating new things out of old stuff,” Ryan said. “I can build it, I can ‘mechanic’ it, I can paint it.”

And she loves pouring those creative juices with a joyful and youthful exuberance into her family’s adopted home community of Great Bend.