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The summer of murals

Creston Community High School freshman Savannah Sistad paints with Leona Fry-Schnormeier help Miami muralist Nicole Salgar paint the side of a building at 114 N. Maple St., owned by Larry Williams.
Creston Community High School freshman Savannah Sistad paints with Leona Fry-Schnormeier help Miami muralist Nicole Salgar paint the side of a building at 114 N. Maple St., owned by Larry Williams.

When Bailey Fry-Schnormeier, Creston Community High School art teacher, and her student Tatelyn Schultz first approached the Creston City Council March 3 for permission to paint city property, Fry-Schnormeier said the goal was “truly just one, maybe two murals.”

But as residents saw the artwork span some of the city’s most unsightly walls, interest for the project continued to grow and continues to attract the attention of muralists from across Iowa and out-of-state. As of this morning, Fry-Schnormeier and her students are working on No. 19 and 20 along side Miami-based artists Nicole Salgar and Chuck Berrett at 114 N. Maple St., owned by Larry Williams.

Fry-Schnormeier said it wasn’t until they hit their tenth, eleventh or twelvth mural when her goal became 20 murals for 2020.

“It wasn’t until these artists just kept coming to me saying they would be a part of it and businesses kept saying yes and the funding kept showing up and then it became this goal. Like, ‘Wouldn’t this be crazy? Wouldn’t this be crazy to do 20 for 2020?’” Fry-Schnormeier said. “Then, instead of being the summer of COVID, it’s the summer of murals and we turn it into this beautiful, wonderful experience.”

During the project, the weather has been the most challenging element for the muralists.

“The heat this summer and then this last week with the rain ... having artists fly in from Miami and then not getting to work was really disappointing for students,” said Fry-Schnormeier.

This year, all of Fry-Schnormeier’s students at CCHS will have an opportunity to use class time to work within the community on the public art project. She said it’s been exciting to watch their evolution as artists this summer – starting out a bit apprehensive to designing and leading mural projects of their own.

“They did not want to edge, they didn’t want to outline, they only wanted to roll the big areas, to now having that confidence, to not only do the edging and the detail work,” she said.

The project was also a way to provide a meaningful experience for students completing community service hours through the juvenile court system and to help integrate them with other student volunteers. Including the students that CCHS juvenile court liaison Maigen Carroll works with was an idea Schultz had and it is what helped the project secure funding from DECAT, facilitated by Jocelyn Blazek, DECAT and Community Partnerships for Protecting Children coordinator.

Fry-Schnormeier and her husband Blake Fry-Schnormeier gave a “Big ups” for the financial support from DECAT (Child Welfare Decategorization Program), Iowa Art Council, Conover Foundation, First National Bank and former Creston residents Jan and Karl Knock. She has also been overwhelmed by the “immense community support” of those welcoming artwork on their property.

“So many business owners and property owners have so openly said yes and gave the OK for artistic freedom,” said Fry-Schnormeier.

Fry-Schnormeier expressed appreciation to Bill Oetken, of Office Machines on North Elm Street, who gave permission for the installation of murals designed by Phill Williams Jr., Amanda Ibbotson, Dylan Anson, Knappy Fogle and Bree Daggett.

“That man is my hero,” she said.

Blake Fry-Schnormeier said Larry Williams never even questioned what was to be painted on his building, which displays the group’s largest installation to date. Williams’ son Marty Williams helped prep the wall making it possible for the group to paint and donated a lift for them to use, saving the artists more than $1,500.

In the future, Bailey Fry-Schnormeier said she hopes to bring more professional artists to Creston

“Just to give students the opportunity to work with artists that have different styles,” she said. “So many people think that art has to look a certain way.”

She also wants to show her students the different backgrounds and experiences in which artists have found success. But whether her students pursue a profession in art or not, she wants them to know they have already become success, as the art has generated appreciation from passersby and those who have made comments to her as she’s seen about town.

“There was an older gentleman in the community that has lived here his whole life who came up to me off mural site and ... thanked me for the hard work of the students and said it was the best thing that has ever happened in our community,” said Fry-Schnormeier. “For me, to have an older gentleman come up, that I didn’t even know necessarily have an appreciation for the arts, to take the time to say that, I think that was the most surprising.”

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