Paintbrushes spread patches of color along a wall in a north Casper Park along the North Platte River. Some volunteers stood or sat on the grass, brushing vivid blue along the bottom of the mural depicting a river scene. Some stood on ladders and scaffolds. One painter brushed an earthy green onto the tail of a massive rainbow trout splashing into the water.
More than 45 volunteers painted last Friday to help complete a new mural at Riverview Park. The mural painting day was ServeWyoming’s service project this year for September 11th National Day of Service and Remembrance, observed with community projects nationwide, said Jessica Stanbury, program director for the Volunteer Wyoming program under ServeWyoming.
Besides the rainbow trout, the mural also depicts people planting a tree and cleaning trash along a riverside trail. Silhouettes in the background run, walk and bike along the path.
The mural spotlights natural vistas of the park and local recreation along the North Platte River winding through Casper. Like two previous murals painted in Casper for the national observance, the mural represents serving others, Stanbury said.
“We were thinking, too, of what Casper is all about, and fishing and the Platte River is one of our claims to fame,” Stanbury said. “And it’s the same spirit of service.”
Friday’s painters included several AmeriCorps members from around the country and local volunteers. Among the painters was Kia Parrish-Haim, an AmeriCorps member from Washington currently at the Teton Science Schools in Jackson Hole. She wore a safety harness as she painted a section near the top of the wall. She had no previous mural experience, but the artists made it easy with outlines edged in the correct colors for the volunteers to fill in, she said. She was happy to travel to Casper last week to help with the project.
“Towns with art in them are always more beautiful,” Parrish-Haim said.
Another AmeriCorps member serving at Teton Science Schools, Natalie McBranch, enjoyed painting a mural last week for the first time in years, she said. She’s worked on beautification projects in her home state of New Mexico, where she found art can enhance public spaces and encourage pride in communities.
“People are definitely less inclined to graffiti a wall where there’s something beautiful on it,” she added.
American Legion Post 2 vice commander Larry Seems signed up to paint after seeing a post from a past commander on social media. He thought it would be a good way to contribute and enjoy a day outside, he said.
“It’s community service, and that’s what the American Legion is about – helping vets and helping people...” Seems said. “It’s nice to see people turn out and volunteer. We need more of it — people helping people.”
Casper City Councilman Jesse Morgan took a spot Friday afternoon on a stepstool to paint a section of the trout during his lunch break.
“It’s definitely a perfect addition to the park,” Morgan said. “It’s just another reason for people to come to the park; that’s why we have city parks, is for people to enjoy them.”
ServeWyoming planned the mural with local design and marketing company Fort Atelier and the city of Casper Parks Departments’ Keep Casper Beautiful program. The latter provided the paint as well as a sealant that will help keep any vandalism from permanently damaging the mural, Keep Casper Beautiful coordinator Beth Andress said.
A previous mural painted on the park’s wall had faded, and the city also has removed graffiti there, Andress said. The new mural is intended to enhance the park and deter vandalism, she added. Keep Casper Beautiful has organized other public art projects, including works by local artists decorating traffic signal control boxes downtown.
Tony Elmore of Fort Atelier designed the murals for two previous September 11th National Day of Service and Remembrance projects in 2014 and 2016. Volunteers for those murals painted the inside of the Beverly Street underpass. The new mural decorates the back of a basketball court wall at Riverview Park.
“It’s nice to have public art in places you don’t expect it, especially in our parks,” Andress said.
Months before Friday’s painting session, Casper artist Tony Elmore and organizers met in front of the wall in Riverview Park. They discussed ideas that would fit the setting, local community and themes of service. People respond to animals in other murals he’s painted in Casper, like a fox he painted in the downtown parking garage, he said. The rainbow trout fits a major local and tourist draw in Casper and lends striking colors to the new public art piece, he added.
The two previous ServeWyoming murals feature patriotic themes and spotlight first-responders and military service, Elmore said. This year’s project celebrates community volunteers, like those who painted last Friday. At the bottom right, a John F. Kennedy quote reads, “In the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet.”
Elmore set to work at his sketchbook to rough out his concepts, and then honed the design on his tablet computer. In the days before the painting session, he used a projector to outline the image on the wall. He added some details freehand and filled in outlines with a border of paint. That helps people feel less nervous about painting near the lines, he said.
On Friday, Elmore and his Fort Atelier teamate and wife, Amy Elmore, stayed busy filling paint trays with various colors of house paint, handing out brushes and guiding the volunteers. A small printout of the design hung from the wall by masking tape for volunteers to reference as they worked.
The Elmores marveled as the swath of deep blue river began to anchor the mural.
“I just want this mural to inspire generations of Casperites,” Elmore said, “to serve and preserve the symbiotic relationship we have with the Platte River.”