Painting the town
Young artists are painting the town — literally. In recent years, young artists have been working with some seasoned artists to create murals throughout the Sabetha community and in Sabetha schools.
For several years, murals and inspirational painting has been colorfully popping up, thanks to some creative Sabetha High School students.
Beautifying an otherwise drab space is typically the goal when creating murals. The first step is finding a drab space. The recent Sabetha murals have been painted on outdoor walls — on the Scoby Bros. building, behind Printing Impressions, behind The Creative Farmhouse and at the lake. Murals have also been painted inside Sabetha Elementary and High Schools.
Murals can add color and aesthetic value to a space.
“It makes a plain wall or building ‘pop’ with color, shape, perspective, etc.,” said Connie Herbster, SHS art instructor. “Many times it tells a story or makes a statement. It simply makes people interested. As with all art, the takeaway purely depends on the viewer’s likes, dislikes, values and opinions. It’s all subjective.”
While the murals beautify a space, a lot goes into the process, Herbster said.
“Sometimes a design is enlarged on paper with an opaque machine and transferred to the wall or a grid is used to enlarge the image. If it is manageable, it can be hand drawn,” Herbster said. “Many times math is involved. It all depends on the design.”
Herbster said some designs are easier than others. The mural design should be sketched out in proportion.
“It is hard to work up close on a large artwork because you cannot see the whole image at once to tell if it’s proportional,” she said. “It’s also harder to know if a highlight or shadow is correct. What looks good up close, may not from 20-plus feet away.”
Herbster said it’s 10 times harder to work on an image 10 feet by 20 feet than 10 inches by 20 inches.
“It takes more than artistic skill, it takes a lot of problem solving. It can be very overwhelming. Even a very simple design can be complicated to enlarge and paint. It also takes a lot of paint and, most of all, time,” Herbster said.
To prepare an outdoor space for painting, it needs to be washed down and primed.
“It’s not as difficult to design the murals as it is to actually transfer the exact design to a huge wall,” said Kirsten Wenger. “The designing part comes pretty easy when we have each other to collaborate with and to shout out ideas! The painting part is by far the most difficult, because we have to scale our design to the size of the wall to make it look exactly how we want.”
Wenger said another challenge is finding the right materials needed to reach the high places.
At SES, painting has brightened up the entryway, hallways and the girls’ restroom. SES principal Sara Toedman, who has been at the SES helm for four years, said she wanted to showcase school spirit and make connections with the school Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support System, the “Bluejay Way.”
“I wanted there to be some visual reminders,” Toedman said.
Her goal is to create a school environment in which students take pride in their school.
“I am a strong believer that when students can develop pride in their school, it will have a positive impact on their learning and desire to give their best effort,” Toedman said. “My hope is that students receive a positive message about themselves and encouragement to treat others with respect and kindness.”
Toedman has received a number of positive comments about the painting in the school, such as “the murals and paintings have added a welcoming atmosphere and character to the building.”
“This is especially true of the girls’ bathroom and the ‘Be the Kind Kid’ butterfly mural,” Toedman said.
The “Be the Kind Kid” butterfly mural is located in the kindergarten hallway. The wording was painted by Jessica Payne and Rachel Kramer. Butterflies were painted by Reggie Garrett and Jeanelle Wenger.
“The biggest challenge of painting the murals was the lettering,” Kramer said. “It’s hard to get the measurements and proportions right. It’s not as hard as you think to paint a big surface — it just takes a lot of time, patience and a whole lot of paint!”
The restroom quotes project was completed mostly by Molly Edelman and Morgan Schuette with help from Sophia Meyer and Chloe Menold.
The project included positive messages painted on the outside of the girls’ restroom stalls. Toedman chose quotes and messages such as “Be the best version of you,” and “She believed she could, so she did.”
Edelman said painting on the bathroom stalls was a little more challenging than painting on a regular canvas, because of the texture.
“I had a lot of fun making the girls’ bathroom at SES a little more inviting and cheerful,” she said. “I am glad I was able to be part of the project.”
Brightening up the entrance of the school, Toedman painted the word “Bluejays” in the front hallway and in other hallways — “The Bluejay Way” and “SES.” Toedman’s 12-year-old daughter Morgan also painted blocks and wording outside the library.
An older mural — a Bluejay breaking through the wall — is painted on a wall facing north which is visible through the window by the trash bin area on the front side of the building. Herbster painted this mural with help from Hannah Robinson and Mollie Robinson.
Toedman says she hopes to have more painting done throughout the school.
“I have communicated with teachers that I am open to ideas they may have,” Toedman said. “My plan is to keep adding throughout the year. I would like to continue to get more color in the hallways.”
Another project in the works is refurbishing wooden chairs in a way that will “add some whimsy,” Toedman said.
“Connie [Herbster] has been wonderful to work with,” she said. “Her students have done a wonderful job in supporting a number of projects.”
At SHS, a book wall mural was painted on the concrete wall under the overhang outside the SHS library.
The project began after KAY Club (Kansas Association for Youth) sponsor Kristina Castillo saw a similar mural at the Marysville Public Library.
SHS librarian Pam Walker and the KAY Club board agreed that this was a way to create a more meaningful outdoor space in the patio area.
Students involved in creating this mural included: Jeanelle Wenger, Kirsten Wenger, Mariah Russell, Rachel Kramer, Megan Brockhoff, Kylie Shelly, Norea Menold, Sophia Meyer, Chloe Menold, RheaEtta Laipple, Ainsley Smith, Sofia Kuenzi, Olivia Meyer, Austyn Wilbar, Deborah Edelman, Sammi Gutknecht, Leah Deckinger, Faith Lachapelle, Shayna Strahm, Aubri Gugelman, Ashlyn Menold, Kenzie Meyer, Kari Edelman, Spencer Strahm, Kinley Schuette, Molly Edelman, Rachel Kuenzi, Hadley Argabright, Ellen Glynn, Bree Voos, Elissa Dalinghaus, Morgan Schuette, Anna Scott, Kinsey Meyer, Cheyan Rokey, Logan Burger, Kate Strahm, Leah Renyer, Casey Williams, Hannah Whittaker, Emily Murchison, Gracie Robinson, Audrey Simpson, Moriah Simpson and Ivy Bailey.
The group looked for a wide variety of genres, choosing classics and other books students have read or will read for English class.
“We selected books by seeing what books represented us as a high school. We also took into consideration the cover designs and the complexity of each book,” Sofia Kuenzi said.
The mural was completed this past summer. Jeanelle Wenger said she loves how the book wall turned out.
“It really shows the artistic abilities and talent at SHS,” she said.
The Sun Wall, located on the back of Printing Impressions, was created by Reggie Garrett, Kirsten Wenger, Jeanelle Wenger and Mariah Russell. The mural was completed in November 2018.
Susan Johnson, owner of Printing Impressions, said K. Wenger and Russell approached her about painting her back wall.
“I said, ‘sure, have fun!’” Johnson said. “Their idea was perfect! A lot of photos with the Sun Wall have been taken, and I often see people back there checking it out. It has been a fun project to be associated with.”
“The Sun Wall was fairly easy to paint,” Garrett said. “Since it was our first one, we did some trial and error. Kirsten came up with the design. A challenge we faced was not knowing how much paint we would need, so we would have to go back to one of the hardware stores to get more paint.”
“I would have never thought I would be painting murals in this town,” J. Wenger said. “Last October, we had a spontaneous idea and decided to paint the sun wall. One project led to another, and now I have done four.”
J. Wenger said she enjoys painting and seeing things that once were boring turn into a large colorful piece of art.
“Seeing a picture from what it used to look like to now makes all the hard work worth it,” J. Wenger said. “Painting murals on a large scale can be difficult when it comes to measurements and revising the plan when things don’t work.”
At Window Opening last year, the Johnsons draped Christmas lights and greenery along the top and set the lights to come on every night for the holiday season.
Two things J. Wenger listed as challenges were finding time to paint and finding nice days to paint.
“This summer was either super hot or rainy — not the best painting weather,” J. Wenger said.
The American flag mural, located on the Scoby Bros. building at 918 Main Street, visible above Downtown Coffee Co., was completed in early August. Luke Scoby, owner of Scoby Bros., said Tom Gudenkauf, owner of Downtown Coffee Co., approached him with the idea to paint a flag in that location more than a year ago. After some talking with SHS students who had completed other murals in the community, Scoby reached out to them and they painted after work hours this past summer.
Those involved in painting the mural were Tom Gudenkauf, Tyler Gudenkauf, Kirsten Wenger, Jeanelle Wenger, Rachel Kramer and Reggie Garrett.
“The location is a great one as it’s one of the most visible empty brick walls on Main Street and it’s on a building that was built in 1886,” Scoby said. “There was nothing more fitting to paint there than Old Glory!”
Scoby said he thinks all the painting around town and in the schools is a “fantastic” idea.
“It’s a way to dress up some otherwise drab walls. It allows the artists to showcase their skills, and the paintings will be there when these youngsters hopefully move back to Sabetha to live, work and raise a family,” Scoby said.
Scoby said he hopes that when citizens and visitors see the large, beautiful American flag that they feel a sense of patriotism and pride in the Main Street, the community, state and country.
“Nearly everyone in our country has a family member, friend or acquaintance that has died for the freedom we enjoy to fly and display that flag,” Scoby said. “It is my opinion the United States — even with its flaws — was founded with divine intervention and without question has been the force for more good, freedom and prosperity this world has ever seen. The flag represents that and I darn sure think it’s something to be proud of. I know I am.”
While it was her favorite mural, K. Wenger said the American flag mural was not an easy one.
“The biggest challenge while creating the American flag was making sure we had all 50 stars while also making sure they were aligned correctly,” K. Wenger said. “It took a while to get it perfect, but once we did, it was worth it.”
“It was super fun working on top of the building and seeing Sabetha from up there,” Kramer said. “It is a very striking mural that everyone notices, and it’s cool that I got to be a part of it. I’ve received so many uplifting and encouraging comments about the work we’ve done. I love being able to take part in making Sabetha colorful and welcoming.”
“We faced a lot of challenges throughout it, but had to figure out ways to go around the problems to still make it look great,” K. Wenger said. “The location of the mural is very unique and also in a place where a lot of people can enjoy to look at it. And it’s a blast being able to say you’re finally done and then we just get to admire all the hard work!”
The Aztec striped wall behind The Creative Farmhouse was crafted by Kirsten Wenger, Reggie Garrett and Jeanelle Wenger.
Danielle Rebant and Kelsi Strahm, owners of The Creative Farmhouse, approached the girls after they had completed the Sun Wall mural. The Aztec striped wall project began in November 2018 and was completed in April 2019. Weather was a big factor in the completion of the project.
“This had been something we’ve wanted to do since purchasing this building, but time just hadn’t allowed,” Strahm said. “We were thrilled when they agreed to work with us.”
Strahm said the goal with the Aztec wall was to provide an artistic feature to an unattractive space — bring happiness to the community and create a space for a photo opportunity.
“Murals allow people to reflect their joys and values,” Strahm said. “It beings art into public places, beautifies the community and attracts public attention.”
J. Wenger said this project was her favorite.
“Modern classy designs interest me the most, and it was satisfying to peel back the tape and see a straight perfect line,” she said.
The Creative Farmhouse ladies hope others decide to beautify Sabetha with murals. In the future, they also want to add another mural on the east side of their building.
“We’d love to see the large wall to the east of Downtown Coffee be used for a community mural — similar to the Made in KC mural in downtown KC!” Strahm said.
City lake project
A mural at the City Lake decorates a wall outside the bathroom stalls. This mural was part of an SHS government class project approved by the City Commission this past spring.
SHS government teacher Maggie Suther said each year she has students in her class propose a Community Improvement Project, which students then present to the Sabetha City Commission for consideration.
“Students work through the second semester of their junior year on identifying a need in the community, gathering information, developing a plan, and finally presenting the ideas to the commissioners,” Suther said. “They get to choose almost whatever they want so long as it is within the jurisdiction of our local city government.”
The group of students involved in this project, who were juniors last spring, just recently completed this mural. Those students were Jeanelle Wenger, Erin Howard, Molly Edelman and Bree Voos.
City Administrator Doug Allen said the city commission would entertain more ideas for possible murals, but volunteers would have to be willing to do the painting.
“Murals are a great way to brighten your community,” Allen said. “A couple of other areas were discussed for possible mural locations, but nothing has been set in stone. Anyone interested would have to bring their ideas to the city for approval and have volunteers in line to complete the project.”
Herbster, who has taught art in Sabetha for 34 years, says she has a “murals” project in mind, and has people in mind to get it started.
“In many ways it’s already begun,” she said. “I’d like to create a ‘murals project/contest.’”
Herbster said she has many former students in the community and outside the community who could team up and take on a mural.
“We’d need businesses and places willing to donate available outdoor wall space. Sabetha could become the ‘city of murals,’” Herbster said.
If any business owners are interested, Herbster would love to hear from them. Murals in alleyways on both sides of Main Street would be ideal. She can be reached at [email protected]