New Mural Comes to Life Beneath the Putnam Street Bridge
Underneath the Putnam Street Bridge, nearly a dozen artists have been hard at work transforming the tunnel along the bike path into an underwater dreamscape. Coordinated by the Marietta Main Street Public Art Committee and designed by four talented local artists, the hand-painted mural wraps around the tunnel’s entire interior, stretching the width of the bridge. Against a backdrop of bright teal, native fish and other aquatic creatures that call the Ohio River home now gracefully swim along its walls.
The impact on the community was immediate. Even before the painting was complete, onlookers peeked inside to admire the artists’ work. Residents of all ages seemed to appreciate the vision and execution of this large-scale collaboration.
“I can’t wait to take my kids down to see it and take pictures, it turned out beautifully!” said Morgan Morrow, commenting on a post of the finished mural. “Good job to everyone who brought this to life!”
Many Months in the Making
While painting the mural lasted less than a week, this collaborative project was many months in the making. In 2020, the Public Art Committee created strategic goals for 2021 and one of those was to enhance a public space downtown.
“Since the bike tunnel is such a high traffic area, part of the Marietta River Trail, and downtown, we selected that location to parallel our other investments in outdoor recreation,” said Cristie Thomas, Executive Director of Marietta Main Street.
We wanted the design of the tunnel to connect directly to its location in our town.Cristie Thomas
Bobby Rosenstock, Chair of the Public Art Committee and owner of Just A Jar Design Press, put forward a proposal to paint the tunnel in partnership with three additional local artists, each with unique but complementary styles and experience painting native wildlife. Hailey Bennett, Beth Nash, and Julie Zickefoose worked with Rosenstock on the master design.
The Public Art Committee submitted an initial proposal to Marietta City Administration requesting their support for the project, which allowed Marietta Main Street to request grant funding from the Ohio Arts Council (OAC).
“Once we had a final mural design and learned about funding from the OAC, we once again submitted a request to Marietta City Administration for both approval of the mural design and partnership in bringing the mural to life,” said Thomas.
The project was funded partially by the Ohio Arts Council, with remaining costs being covered by donations made to the Public Art Committee through various efforts including sales of the MOV Coloring Books, t-shirts, and direct gifts. The project also received in-kind support from the Marietta Noon Rotary Club, who assisted in priming the tunnel and preparing the walls for painting.
“The bike tunnel is a high traffic area in downtown Marietta – from locals using it for exercise to families bringing children to explore the river trail to tourists taking in the breathtaking views of our confluence, the tunnel is visible, utilized, and in some ways a representation of our community,” said Thomas. “We wanted the design of the tunnel to connect directly to its location in our town; by featuring depictions of plants and creatures in the Ohio River, folks become directly connected to one of the many reasons why Marietta is a stand out city.”
I wanted to play off of how it could visually engulf you as you pass through it and thought that a river scene would be a great way to create that effect.Bobby Rosenstock
Thomas said they hope to see the tunnel utilized as an outdoor classroom of sorts, too, enhancing the experiences of families and area schools as they connect youth to the outdoors and local culture and heritage.
Eleven Artists, Four Days, One Mural
“Painting the tunnel was always at the top of the Art Committee’s list,” said Rosenstock. “I wanted to play off of how it could visually engulf you as you pass through it and thought that a river scene would be a great way to create that effect. We also wanted it to be educational so the four artists that designed the mural spent a morning with Michael Schramm of the Ohio River Islands National Wildlife Refuge in Williamstown, learning about the flora and fauna found in the rivers here.”
Rosenstock said Schramm showed them the tanks and mussels, answering questions they had about the river and its wildlife. The artists made a list of native fish and critters to include in the mural and divvied up the list.
We wanted to accurately portray all of the fish, but we also wanted showcase the unique artistic style of each individual artist.Bobby Rosenstock
“As a group, we decided we wanted to accurately portray all of the fish, but we also wanted showcase the unique artistic style of each individual artist,” said Rosenstock. “So while some of us toiled over getting certain portrayals perfect, others stylized and exaggerated features and colors.”
While the larger creatures were blocked out, he said they left plenty of room for artists to create in the moment and collaborate – which is exactly what happened.
“While we were working on our own individual fish, we bounced around offering feedback to each other, sometimes painting together or adding on elements. A collaborative project like this is quite a beautiful thing to be a part of, students, teachers, professionals and amateurs working side by side, all learning from each other, being inspired by each other, pushing each other,” Rosenstock said.
Leah Seaman, a fine artist and recent graduate of Marietta College, drove in from her home and studio in Philippi, WV to help with the mural early this week, painting alongside several of her past professors.
“I think projects like this are a wonderful way to connect to the arts community. Especially as a new artist, it can be intimidating to get established in a world where everyone already knows everyone and all the artists are already best friends,” said Seaman. “So projects like this connect the really experienced artists with the up and coming generation in the community.”
I’m really grateful for it because it just gets me connected into this community a little bit more in a way that I wouldn’t have been before.Leah Seaman
Aside from the obvious benefits to the community, Seaman said it was a great learning opportunity, too. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for well-seasoned and brand new artists to just learn from each other and collaborate and build those networks that are going to help these new artists for generations to come,” she said. “I’m really grateful for it because it just gets me connected into this community a little bit more in a way that I wouldn’t have been before.”
Julie Zickefoose, a well-known author, artist and naturalist, has been painting in watercolors since she was 12, but said this was her first time painting in acrylics and her first time painting at this scale.
“Oh I’m enjoying it, but it’s not without its challenges,” she said. “When you’re painting like this, you can’t really see what it looks like. You basically have to be jumping back and making sure this is what you want to do.”
Zickefoose, who normally works alone, said she was excited to work alongside other local artists. “I totally love Bobby’s folk art, more primitive style, I just adore it,” she said. “It’s great fun to see semi-realistic right next to a more fanciful Bobby thing, and that was what I was excited about with this – the chance to work with Bobby, and Beth, and Hailey, it’s just great.”
Zickefoose’s son Liam Thompson, a senior at WVU studying art and graphic design, helped her with one of two otters swimming gracefully in the center of the tunnel. She said she has loved the chance to bring her son and have him get a taste of what it’s like to collaborate with other artists.
It makes me think that I have the potential to do all these amazing things that are being done right in my hometown.Liam Thompson
“Seeing the new murals, like by over where Twisted Sister used to be, this tunnel mural, and everything popping up around Marietta with a lot of young artists, it makes me think that I have the potential to do all these amazing things that are being done right in my hometown,” said Thompson. “If they can do it, why can’t I? And I think that’s something that everybody should take with them – every young artist should realize that they have the potential to do something really great.”
Creativity Blossoms through Collaboration
Zickefoose, Nash, and Bennett said the scale of this project was initially intimidating. “We were all pretty scared, Bobby was scared,” said Zickefoose. “But it’s been amazing, actually, I love it. It’s very fun. And now I want to do more murals!”
Bennett said this project exceeded her expectations, both in speed and final result. “I thought it was going to be more difficult – the collaborative aspect – but it’s been really easy, especially with all of our volunteers,” she said.
Bennett said she enjoyed the scale, and prefers working in acrylics. “I like doing a lot layers, and how quickly it dries.” She painted a Northern Bluegill, Northern Map Turtle, and an incredible Small Mouth Bass, among other things. “The Small Mouth Bass turned out way better than I expected,” she said.
Nash, who painted the vibrant Spotted Gar and Redhorse Sucker among many other things, worked quickly throughout the week. “I’m really happy,” she said. “It’s fun, it’s very lively. I think it really brightens the tunnel.”
I feel really lucky to have been able to spend the week creating something with such an awesome group of people.Bobby Rosenstock
For both Nash and Bennett, this project was the second collaborative mural project they have participated in, the first being the mural series in the Alleyway between Front and Second Streets completed last fall. Nash said she enjoys ‘painting big’ and doing big things, and that this was a great group for collaboration.
Of the fish she painted, the Spotted Gar is her favorite. “I like my Gar. I’ve seen them on the Little Muskingum River before when I’ve been kayaking. They’re a cool fish. They kind of look scary in real life.”
All in all, eleven artists participated in bringing the mural to life. Bennett, Nash, Rosenstock, and Zickefoose received help from Leah Seaman, Liam Thompson, Abigail Litman, Bonie Bolen, Jolene Powell, Savannah King, and Sarah Arnold. Despite hot weather and long hours, the team enjoyed their time together painting, and credited much of the experience to Rosenstock’s thoughtful coordination.
“We have a wonderful artistic community, thanks in large part to Bobby,” said Zickefoose. “He’s marshalled so many people and made them feel at home,” noting that if Bobby asked her to jump, she’d ask how high.
“Honestly, it was just so much fun to be hanging out with everyone, listening to music, painting, talking,” said Rosenstock. “I feel really lucky to have been able to spend the week creating something with such an awesome group of people. It’s hard to judge your own art, we sure had fun making it, and hope the community likes it.”