With the Washington Town and Country Fair kicking off this week there’ll be an influx of visitors coming to town. Hopefully many will drive along our riverfront and have a look at our historic center.
If so, they might see artist Kim Alsop at work. Her canvas is unusual — two sections of a concrete wall on Elm Street, near Marquart’s Landing where she is creating a visual history of Washington using letters of our town and state embellished with items that showcase our riverfront community.
“I wanted it to have a nostalgic feel to it,” Kim said.
It’s an eye-popping mural to behold, one of many ideas generated by members of ACOW, the Arts Council of Washington.
Two Sections of Pretty
The wall on Elm Street actually intersects with another wall, making a corner before continuing behind The Landing. Kim’s mural extends as well. The section along Elm spells out “Welcome to Washington” and highlights our town’s history from 1800-1900. Also included is an image of the current bridge over the Missouri River.
The section on the south side of The Landing is embellished with “Missouri,” and earmarks local history from 1900 to present. A likeness of the new bridge will be included on that section.
The corner where the two walls meet can easily be seen from the Washington Depot, a spot Kim envisioned visitors noticing when they arrive in Washington on Amtrak.
“I tried to represent as many different types of people as I could in the mural,” Kim said.
More Than Meets the Eye
Lest you think Kim just went to the wall and started slapping on a “good quality house paint” that’s “fast-drying,” guess again. Hours of research were necessary before she got underway, something Kim really enjoys, almost as much as she loves “painting big,” creating large pieces, an affinity she can trace to childhood when her architect father gave her blueprint paper to draw and paint on, then questioned why her creations always bled off the page.
Once Kim had her historic ducks in a row, she set about writing a proposal to submit to ACOW, and a drawing to scale, as well as an estimate on the amount of paint and other supplies needed to complete the mural. She always knew she wanted her design to be connected to Washington’s history, to have meaning, but admits it was really difficult to pare down her research and decide what to include and what to leave out.
Over the moon sums up Kim’s feelings when her proposal was selected, a buoyant mood that prevails as she works, sometimes kneeling, sometimes lying on her side, sometimes stretching tall to reach the mural from a stepladder. Because it varies in size, from a little over a foot in height, to 9-feet-plus, Kim has to be flexible and fit.
The outdoors present unique problems too, weather that ranges from rain to the recent heat wave, and sun, which causes a distracting glare when it hits the wall at certain times.
The surface of the wall also is problematic. Because it’s so pitted Kim has struggled “painting a crisp line,” but that’s not the least bit noticeable when you study the amazing detail on the miniature steamboats at the southernmost start of the wall, the shortest section.
Kim spends about five to six hours painting at a time, most often starting in the morning and moving about the mural according to her whims because “repetition kills me,” she said. “I keep jumping around; I’m motivated by color or light.”
The Real Reward
As the mural reveals itself to her, letter by letter, and image by image, other stories besides the ones pictured on the wall are materializing — tales from onlookers who happen by. They stop to talk to her, offering thumbs-ups, positive comments, and sharing anecdotes.
She’s made friends with people working at The Landing and customers who go to the restaurant for a burger or beer. Kim has been offered sandwiches, pizza and water, but it’s the camaraderie that really feeds her.
She is painting a welcome to our community and in return is being welcomed. Stop by and take a look — and take note of the second “S” in Missouri — it gives a nod to the Washington Town and County Fair, showing a girl with her blue-ribbon pig.
It’s letter-perfect, just like all the other warm-colored images in this amazing stretch of artwork that so beautifully represents our community.