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An expanse of yellow paint met the outlines of people in an image that formed on a downtown Casper building last week. The one at the left marches behind the rest, because he put others first.

The Rev. James Reeb also is in the center of the mural in his hometown that will tell the story of his life — a life spent helping others up to his death in 1965 marching for civil rights in Selma, Alabama.

Casper mural artist Tony Elmore stood on a scaffold one evening and brushed the paint over white primer near the top of the wall as he worked on the mural dedicated to Reeb.

An unveiling celebration Aug. 28 for the Rev. James Reeb Memorial Mural will feature a reception and panel talk with the hosts of NPR’s White Lies podcast, journalists Chip Brantley and Andrew Beck Grace, who investigated Reeb’s unsolved murder five decades later.

They’ll join members of the Reeb family and Wyoming author Ammon Medina in the “Civil Rights Then & Now: The Presence of Justice” panel emceed by Pastor Libby Tedder Hugus of alternative church community The Table, which spearheaded the mural with the Casper Mural Project team. The free event open to all is meant to inspire across generations, whether it’s grandparents who remember Reeb’s death or grandchildren, Tedder Hugus said.

The goal of the public art piece is to spark greater compassion and empathy, which drove Reeb through his life, she said. The discussion will explore his story and how its lessons apply to Wyoming in 2019, Tedder Hugus said.

“Because his was a life that was bold and courageous,” she said. “And he lived in divided times in the ‘50s and the ‘60s and we currently live in divided times. And so what this provides us in the opportunity for a model and framework for how to be loving neighbors in difficult times.”

Inspiration strikes

Elmore lay in bed one night thinking about his ideas for mural design. But none of them seemed quite right or like what Reeb would want, he said.

An epiphany struck, an image in his mind of a man walking with a wake trailing him filled with memories of significant times in his life and the contributions he left behind. The idea would become the mural of Reeb walking with contemporaries of his story in the civil rights movement, with the life that led him there told in images along the wake along the wall.

“It just kind of came to me, ‘Hey this is the right direction,’” Elmore said.

Elmore began researching last spring when he was commissioned and discussed ideas with Reeb’s family, many of whom live in Casper. He sketched about 25 ideas before the final concept, he said.

The piece will be Elmore’s sixth public mural in town, including Serve Wyoming projects, one in the downtown parking garage and other city of Casper commissions, according to a press release form the The Table. Elmore was a 3D computer art teacher at Natrona County High School before he started his digital creative marketing agency Fort Atelier with his wife, Amy.

The mural will feature a graphic style with large, bold shapes of color, Elmore said. He initially planned the mural in shades of blue. Then he began experimenting with a warm palette before settling on a complementary color scheme of gold against deep blue.

“And it just felt more alive and bright and full of life, versus the other design that I had started with from the beginning,” he said. “I thought it would kind of capture viewers’ attention from far away.”

The design for is a blend of his imagination and suggestions from the Reeb family, he said. They agreed early on that other people would be part of the mural. Martin Luther King Jr. in the image leads the group of Reeb’s contemporaries. Reeb was murdered by white supremacists while in Selma, Alabama, to march with King for voting rights. His death helped spur the Voting Rights Act.

“His life was committed to serving people and people’s needs,” Elmore said. “So it just felt appropriate to have others in the image and not have it just be about him.”

Digital to brick

Elmore designed the mural on his iPad with software allows him to digitally engineer the artwork, he said.

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The digital tools allow flexibility to make changes and edits but still require the same art skills as traditional mediums. He started rough sketching with a pencil tool and gradually refined lines with color, similar to a pen and ink drawing.

“Drawing faces is just as hard,” he said. “Drawing hands is just as hard, drawing people is just as hard.”

The first step of painting the wall was assessing the surface and its condition. Then Elmore power-washed and primed the wall. He’s used a paint sprayer to fill the aged texture of his first brick wall, and he’s had to scrape some grout, he said.

Then there are all the mundane yet important questions like, “Do you need shelter from the sun?” or “Where’s the bathroom?” It’s hours of work in summer heat, but the wall is in shade during the late afternoon when Elmore usually starts painting.

He learned after his first mural to measure the wall and any obstacles to exact proportions before designing the mural to avoid unintended cropping, he said. He created an outline of his design from a projector and planned where to place each color like a paint by number, he said.

It’s the first of a number of murals that the Casper Mural Project team is planning for the area between the downtown parking garage and David Street Station.

Peter Wold of Wold Energy Partners and Wold Oil Properties owns the recently remodeled building and said the new mural and another painted on the north side last fall bring history and beauty to downtown.

“I hope that other property owners in downtown Casper area will step up to the plate and help the city to beautify our downtown area the way that the David Street Station has so enhanced this area,” he said.

The parking spaces have been adjusted to give a better view of the mural, he said.

“But it’s fascinating because it’s an important part of a bit of Wyoming and Casper history, and so finally we’re going to recognize that,” he said.

The mural and the unveiling event will help make the undertold story of Reeb more known and accessible, Tedder Hugus said. Plans for the project include an interactive website and a film.

Locals and visitors from around the county have struck up conversations with Elmore as he’s worked. He looks forward to the mural drawing more.

“I think that beautifully arranged colors and pigments and can draw people to a location,” Elmore said. “All it is is just paint on the wall. But in the right order, it draws and attracts.”

Reeb’s life is a Casper story that goes beyond Wyoming, he said.

“It affects us all,” he said. “It’s a story that affects the entire nation.”

He hopes the mural will inspire others to make a difference in people’s lives, which is what Reeb did, he said. King in his eulogy for Reeb said the greatest tribute is to continue the work he did.

The wake of Reeb’s life moments are forefront in the mural. But if you look closely, you can see the four others also walk with a wake trailing them. Everyone does, Elmore said.

“What is your story?” the viewer can imagine. “What kind of legacy are you leaving behind?”

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Follow reporter Elysia Conner on Twitter @erconner

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Star-Tribune reporter Elysia Conner covers arts, culture and the Casper community.

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