Artist Phyllis Neimeyer Miller talks about summer mural project at K12 Gallery in Dayton.

Mural touts Dayton’s colorful history

Summer project brings together professional and student artists.

“K12’s programs inspire young people to imagine, create and grow together by building self-esteem and creativity while providing a practical sense of art appreciation and value in the community.”

—-From the K12 website

It’s not unusual these days to see drivers doing a double-take as they head through downtown Dayton and pass the corner of Jefferson Street and Patterson Boulevard.

Some are so intrigued they’re pulling over and getting out of their cars for a closer look.

In this case, the “draw” is the drawing: a group of artists who’ve spent their summer transforming the exterior of the former S&V Office Furniture building into a gigantic, bold and colorful mural. The array of images — a blend of artwork from kids and professionals — ranges from aliens to the Wright Brothers.

A bit of history

The Summer Mural Project is the latest in a series of community programs that have sprung from the creative mind of Jerri Stanard, founder and executive director of the K12 Gallery & TEJAS (Teen Educational and Joint Adult Studio), a regional center for artists, aspiring artists and art patrons. It’s been 20 years since Stanard first envisioned a special place where children could make and exhibit their own art. Today the expanded gallery holds 16 exhibits a year and welcomes adults as well as the youngsters. There’s studio space for professional working artists as well.

In September of 2013, when the non-profit organization moved from its former East Third location to 341 S. Patterson in September of 2013, it inherited 37,000 square feet of space and an historic building covered with peeling paint. The structure, dating back to the 1900s, was originally home to a horse-and-carriage delivery service. Over the years, the building housed a car dealership, a welding company, and S&V.

Making murals

Rebecca Sargent, TEJAS director and supervisor of the Summer Mural Project, said the issue of the building’s deteriorating exterior needed to be addressed pretty quickly.

“We knew we had to rehab the walls, scrape off the old paint, repair and prime the concrete,” she explains. “The question was how we could do that in a creative way that would impact the community?”

Stanard proposed a huge mural project on the south side wall which could become a colorful entryway into the city.

Giant murals weren’t a new idea for the organization. In partnership with the Montgomery County Juvenile Courts, its HALLO program (Helping Adolescents Achieve Longterm Objectives) has been responsible for large-scale murals on abandoned buildings throughout downtown, including one on an old carriage house in the alley behind the new gallery. The 30/60/90 project, a similar program for adults, resulted in four murals on the outside of the Montgomery County Courts Building.

Call to artists

Thanks to a $120,000 grant from the DP&L Foundation, the dream of a Summer Mural Project was a go, allowing the staff to hire professional artists, incorporate paid teen apprentices and purchase the costly materials. That grant is also funding a variety of other important upgrades ranging from a welcome center, windows and signage, front offices, classes and more. A restroom mural project is in the works as well.

“We wanted the mural to incorporate Dayton history and pay tribute to the incredible things Dayton has achieved,” says Sargent. “And we also wanted it to promote the things we do inside the building.”

The fanciful results are now on display and represent a summertime of work by three professional artists, eight teenage apprentices and a group of students from St. Christopher Catholic School in Vandalia. The mosaic-like design that runs under the windows on the southeast side of the building was painted by another group student volunteers and artists-in-training.

Leading the charge

Professional artist Phyllis Niemeyer Miller was given the daunting task of coming up with an overall design for the entire mural. She’s also supervised all of the artists.

“We needed someone who could pull all of this artwork together visually and make it work,” says Sargent. “We’ve worked with Phyllis over the years and she’s super-talented and a fantastic artist.”

Miller, an artist from Oakwood best known for her pen-and-ink drawings and oil paintings, has spent the summer months standing on scaffolding, paint brush in hand, surrounded by paint cans. Last week, she was working on a portrait of Paul Laurence Dunbar.

“I want this mural to be a Dayton landmark that draws everyone into K12,” said Miller, who says this has been her favorite job in her 30-year career. “This is an amazing place and the responses to the mural have been so positive.”

The mural will eventually pay tribute to everything Dayton — from a history of flight to the creative arts. You’ll see rocket ships, a whimsical cash register, musical instruments, images of dance. All of the frames of the various paintings honor a Dayton invention — like the pop-top can.

Miller says she’s hoping that K12 & TEJAS will recreate for today’s budding artists the remarkable experiences she enjoyed at Dayton’s Living Arts Center when she was a teenager.

“I know from personal experience that art heals people and gives you joy and inner peace in your life,” she says.

Working with students & artists

When it came to selecting mural apprentices, Miller looked for talented art students who felt comfortable with heights.

“Normally when you’re working on a painting you can walk back and forth and look at it as you paint,” she explains. “We’re stuck up here on a ladder and the scale is huge, so you have to learn how to adjust it and see if the proportions are right.”

Some of the artwork you’ll see — like the cat painting a cat and the alien — is inspired by children’s actual artwork and supervised by professional artist Scott Gibbs. The blooming tree, with the city of Dayton blossoming inside it, was created by professional artist Brendan Higgins. The young boy with the cap was designed by artist Pat Antonick.

The couple encircled with sun rays and engineering symbols are K12 board president Walt Hoy and his wife, Ann, who provided the bridge loan which allowed the non-profit organization to help purchase the building.

A learning experience

Other artists working on the Summer Mural Project include Lead Teen Mural Apprentice, Hannah Williams, a Sinclair Community College graduate from Beavercreek and teen apprentices: Aryn Landes, Dayton Christian School; Linnea Albers, Alter High School; Erin Dix and Erin Ward, Stivers School for the Arts; Brianna Carr, Centerville High School and Jessica Hull, 10th grade student at Oakwood High School.

Deaunta Bennett, an 11th-grade student at Thurgood Marshall High School, first heard about the project from his art teacher who recommended that he apply. He’s glad he did.

“I’ve been all over the place,” says Deaunta, when asked about his contributions to the project. “I painted half of the mural of the boy, I helped with the scraping and priming, I’ve painted leaves, flowers, helped with stenciling.”

Deaunta says it’s been a good way meet and interact with other artists and other teens interested in art.

“A lot of people are going to walk past here and see this,” he says. “I think it will feel good to know that I was a part of creating it.”

Deaunta said working on the mural has taught him to be more open to art.

“Let art flow through your body and clear your mind,” he advises. “ I think you find who you are when you create art … and you become closer with yourself.”

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