Artists aim to bring life to downtown

Anne Farley Gaines, commissioned artist from Chicago, works on painting the clouds on what will be the background of the mural. Feb. 23. Photo by Arianna Davis.

When asked to describe the city, “artistic” is not a word that first comes to mind. Local artists, residents and Wichita Falls Museum of Art staff plan to change this way of thinking.

The Arts for All reception on Feb. 23 at the Wichita Falls Museum of Art allowed inhabitants of the city to come check out the 18-month-long mural project in the works of being completed. Anne Farley Gaines, commissioned artist, and Audra Lambert, president of Wichita Falls Art Association, came together during the reception to continue working on the mural. Their goal is to bring together the Wichita Falls community, through artistic expression.

“The greatness of this whole thing is the discovery of a new talent. For other people, but also for myself. I only just started doing ceramics. My main medium is painting. Being a painter has really given me an edge,” Gaines said.

Gaines, who lives in Chicago and travels around the country creating murals in other cities, became invested in art at 3-years-old, however, she said she’s always had a strong awareness for art, and committed to the field at the age of 19. From a young age, she gathered inspiration from her great uncle, whose artwork was displayed across her home’s walls. Throughout school she was known as the “class artist” and has always held a passion for music and dramatic arts.

Lambert, on the other hand, is a local artist. She’s part of a collective studio in downtown called Seventh St. Studio, a group who, for the past 20 years, has specialized in image design and retouching

“I came onto this project after it started. I came to volunteer and they [the staff] asked me if I could help more, so here I am,” Lambert said. “Today, I’m really trying to help Anne [Gaines] facilitate with the mural a little more. It is a huge project, bigger than what people think.”

Gaines was commissioned through The Priddy Foundation, which is an organization “dedicated to the support of programs in human services, education, the arts and health” as stated on its website. The Priddy Foundation also gave grants, made by Director of the Wichita Falls Museum of Art, Francine Carraro, to allow for the creation of the mural.

Carraro also brought Gaines in to work on the mural after seeing her art.

“Francine saw my previous work such as the ‘Treasures of Palos Heights’ in Palos Heights, Illinois, and we started working together,” Gaines said.

According to Mary Helen Maskill, public programs director at the Wichita Falls Museum of Art, The Priddy Foundation grants covered the cost of the mural. It did not come out of the museum’s budget. The grant funding put toward the Arts for All program also went into Gaines’ salary and trip to Wichita Falls, any material fees, installation and other exhibitions created through the Wichita Falls Museum of Art.

She also said with this year’s collaboration, she had between 300 to 400 pieces submitted by volunteers.

“Theater. Music. They’re all collaborative art forms. We wanted to make art like that, too. It’s not the norm in the fine arts world to work together on art pieces,” Maskill said. “It’s taking people out of their box and having them learn a new art form. It’s also getting people downtown, which we want to happen.”

While hundreds of pieces were submitted, there were cases where a single person contributed multiple tiles. Teachers and students in the district were also involved.

Audra Miller, Fain Elementary School teacher, said she encouraged 17 of her students and her children to participate in the mural.

“It brings art to the community and allows people to participate and be involved in a collaborative piece that will last a lifetime,” Miller said. “It also allows my children and students to be a part of something bigger. Art is an amazing thing and can bring about a lot of joy.”

According to Miller, Fain Elementary School is attempting to move toward project-based learning that incorporates local artists.

“I was part of a group of teachers that kind of started this to begin with. We’ve done previous collaborative type pieces. We took all the artists locally and built a curriculum based off it. It gives light to a lot of the native Wichita Falls artists allows them to give their history,” Miller said.

The Wichita Falls Museum of Art did a similar project in 2014, in which the staff gathered volunteers locally to come together and create a quilt — each person helped design the squares. While the ceramic mural will be hung downtown for all to see, the quilt stays in the museum to preserve the work gone into it.

“You want people to take ownership and feel good about it. It’s also introducing a whole new art form you normally don’t get to do or see much of,” Maskill said.

The mural is set for installation on the old Zales Jewelers store on 8th Street and Ohio Avenue the first week of June and will be viewable to the public on Saturday, June 24 during the Art and Soul Festival.

Additional reporting by Mercy Yermo.