Mural aims for enduring impact

Garret Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Kristi Dammann and Julie Benda pose by their mural in progress on Shelden Avenue Tuesday afternoon.

HOUGHTON — The artists creating the new mural on the street level of the parking deck used by The Vault on Shelden Avenue held a meet-and-greet at the site of the work-in-progress Tuesday.

Julie Benda, who grew up in Houghton, learned of the call for applications to paint the mural when someone she knew said she’d thought of her when she saw it.

Benda is an artist and illustrator, but had never done a mural before. So she reached out to her friend Kristi Dammann, an artist from Minneapolis who creates murals through her company Bristle and Whim.

“I was like, ‘Would you want to collaborate on this project with me?,” Benda said, recounting the pitch. “‘It means a lot to me, and this place means a lot to me.'”

The design had to be tied to the community and the area. With that goal in mind, they went to work. The eventual design draws on both their styles: black-and-white drawings with nature and animals for Benda, and abstract color and organic shapes for Dammann.

They started working on the design when the application went out in May, coordinating with the city throughout. On Thursday, they started painting and chalking the mural.

Both enjoyed being able to meet with residents to talk about their work.

“It’s just a way to connect with people and answer questions from people if they have them, get some feedback,” Dammann said.

Benda agreed.

“A part of the project was for it to be this vibrant revitalization of this sort of deadened space,” she said. “So I think it’s nice to hear and see people walk by and have the chance to actually talk with them and not be so intimately painting.”

By Tuesday afternoon, most of the painting was done. After a couple more days of touch-up work, they planned to clear-coat it for protection.

“It’s such a high-traffic area and gets a lot of dust and dirt and snowplow stuff,” Benda said. “So we just really want to make sure it has some longevity, and it can stay clean and crisp.”

They’ve both liked being in the area for the past week.

“This is my hometown, so it’s been nice to be back,” said Benda, who now lives in Marquette. “It’s been a really lovely process and a lot of support from all the different partners and community members.”

Dammann visits family in the U.P., but this has been her first trip to Houghton. It’s been “very peaceful” and everyone has been friendly, she said.

They’re excited about making a piece that residents and tourists alike can take in for decades.

“I come back to the U.P. every year,” Dammann said. “It will be fun to come and visit and bring my family over it to see it. I’m excited to know that several generations of people can enjoy it.”

Creating art out there permanently for the public to see can be scary, Benda said. But so far, everything she’s heard has been good.

“It’s an honor,” she said. “Thinking about things in long term, the mural’s inspired by the other elements of our environment we also want to endure. So I think that’s a beautiful tie-in … it does bring a little bit of life to the area, so hopefully it continues to do that for some time.”


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