Art in the alley: Le Mars artists find unusual medium for large-scale murals

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LE MARS, Iowa — In Jean Weiner's artistic eye, a farm can yield a field of frozen novelty treats while fence posts can be made out of Popsicle sticks.

"My friends tell me my brain doesn't work like other people," the Le Mars-based artist said while surveying her building-sized art piece. "That's OK with me, because normal's no fun."

Weiner is one of more than two dozen area artists commissioned to create outdoor art along the alleyways of Le Mars' historic downtown district.

The Alley Art Project -- sponsored by the City of Le Mars, Le Mars Art Center and Le Mars Area Chamber of Commerce -- began nearly two years ago, according to Main Street program director Mary Reynolds.

"Our goal is to make Le Mars an artistic place where local people and visitors can congregate downtown and enjoy large-scale art murals in our commercial alleyways," she said.

Although a handful of alleys currently contain elaborate and colorful art, Reynolds said she's waiting to see if the project will receive a $125,000 grant from ArtPlace America to complete the nine-block downtown district.

ArtPlace America is a collaboration that positions art and culture as a core sector of comprehensive community planning and development that is designed to strengthen the social, physical and economic fabric of communities across the country.

"Eventually, we'd love to see concerts and events held right in our alleys," Reynolds said.

Active in the project since the beginning, Weiner is most enthusiastic about her latest mural named "Home Grown."

On the east exterior wall of Close to Home, "Home Grown" pays homage to both Plymouth County as well as the Ice Cream Capital of the World's largest employer.

"When I see clouds in the sky, I sometimes think they look like icons for Blue Bunny Ice Cream," Weiner said, showing off the mural financed by Greg and Pam Wells. "That's why we have bunny clouds and even bunny-shaped spots on the cows."

Normally a water-colorist who specializes in small art pieces, she said creating building-sized murals with house paints presented some unique challenges.

"It's certainly more physically demanding while painting on scaffolding and ladders," Weiner said. "But I love the reactions I've been getting."

This also is true for Le Mars-based artist Lisa Scheitler, whose undersea mural graces the alley-side wall of the nearby Perkins Office Solutions.

"Maybe it's the mom in me but I love to see how children respond to my mural," she said of the art, which also contains a fish-like caricature of Reynolds, among other Le Mars residents.

Surveying the unusual art that graces exterior walls, doorways and sheds. Reynolds can't help but marvel at the ingenuity of artists.

Noting that some of the pieces are business-specific -- for instance, dragons adorn the alley wall of a Japanese restaurant while golf tees loom large on the exterior of a sports bar -- Reynolds is particularly enamored by the displays that are strictly flights of fancy from the artists.

"I mean, only someone as creative as Jean can see tree tops that are shaped like scoops of ice cream and sugar cones spouting out of the ground," she said, shaking her head.

"It's like I said," Weiner said, smiling. "It's no fun being normal."


Information from: Sioux City Journal, http://www.siouxcityjournal.com

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