GILLETTE - You can't see them from a distance. But up close, they are everywhere across this 13,000-square-foot mural - a steel canvas large enough to fit seven presidential heads from Mount Rushmore.
Tennis shoe patterns walk up and across the nose of the train engine. Someone in bare feet waltzed across the haul truck. Others treaded on the cow.
"What do you see on that black part of the train engine?" asked 28-year-old Gillette muralist Harvey Jackson, pointing to a spot 30 feet high on the wall. "Footprints. Isn't that cool? I'm not going to touch them up."
What might appear as a blemish to one person is a treasured signature to Jackson. It's a reminder that this mammoth mural doesn't belong to Jackson the artist. It belongs to Gillette and the energy and agriculture industries that keep the town on the map.
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It also belongs to the hundreds of people who helped paint it.
"I could have painted this mural myself," Jackson said. "But I don't think it would have had as much of an effect on the community."
Haley Siek, Kenneth Adams, Samantha Thompson and 250 other kids and adults from Gillette and around the world can point to a spot on the mural and say, "I painted that. I helped create what might be the largest painting of its kind on Earth."
Today, Jackson and several hundred people in Gillette celebrate the completion of the "Campbell County Industrial" mural at L&H Industrial's new welding shop. The $190,000 project began about a year ago, and the actual painting took place this summer.
After settling on an initial design, Jackson divided the image into 286 pieces. He invited the public to "paint by numbers" on 4-foot by 10-foot sheets of metal strewn on the floor of a warehouse. That is how hundreds of painters were able to safely leave their footprints on something that is now vertical and more
than 50 feet in the air.
"Think of all these kids who have some ownership of this and maybe a little bit more pride about where they come from now," said Doug McDuff, owner of ACE Hardware in Gillette. "It just gives the community an overall sense of pride about who we are - who Gillette is."
Dozens of Gillette businesses donated to the project. ACE donated paint brushes, rollers and other supplies. The Sherwin Williams Co. donated 220 gallons of paint. Companies in coal, oil and natural gas industries were also big donors. McDuff said businesses and individuals alike jumped at the chance to be a part of this one-of-a-kind painting.
"It was just a huge outpouring from people," McDuff said.
Jackson regards exterior walls the same way a climber regards mountains. He wants to paint every one he sees simply because it's there. When L&H Industrial built its huge welding shop several years ago, Jackson drooled at the 56-foot-high and 220-foot-long wall facing Highway 59. L&H wrote out a $50,000 check to go toward the project and told Jackson to get busy with the paint and brushes.
However, the company insists it's not the "L&H" mural. It's Gillette's mural.
"Murals are a public image - usually large - that people are forced to see and deal with," Jackson said. "This mural is telling a story about why Gillette is here. If it wasn't for these industries represented in this mural, we'd be a ghost town."
Campbell County depends on coal mines, the trains that carry the mineral, oil and gas production and traditional ranching that helped establish the town. Each is represented in this tribute.
As he admired footprints, various mismatching colors and other treasured imperfections, Jackson pointed to the train and revealed a dedication in the picture that had been a secret until now. The number 634, on a phone pad, spells out his wife's name: Meg.
Energy reporter Dustin Bleizeffer can be reached at (307) 682-3388 or firstname.lastname@example.org.