COLUMBIA — Art and mobility teamed up Saturday in the North Central neighborhood to beautify the city and promote biking.
Work on Columbia’s first street mural got under way at 8 a.m. at the intersection of Ash and St. Joseph streets. The mural is part of the Bike Boulevard project that has been in the works since 2009.
“This is kind of a throwback,” said John Gatson, one of the project's volunteers. “It’s a case of the old replacing the new,” he said of bikes taking priority over cars.
The artist behind the design is Sandra Eccles, 63, of Canton.
Eccles has done large-scale paintings before, but this was her first time painting on a street. She said she agreed to the project because of the color that art adds to life.
“What would life be without art?” she said. “Without artists, there’d be nothing aesthetic.”
The mural space was first primed three days ago with a white basecoat. Eccles and Tom Edwards, one of the professional artists working on the project, painted the outlines of the design using a grid system. This system divided the design into blocks and helped with the placement of the features of the design as it was enlarged, Eccles said.
Eccles then painted the sun that sits at the center of the design. Edwards and Eccles split up work on the intricate artistic elements. Volunteers filled in the less detailed areas such as the silhouettes and green space.
“It’s like a big coloring book,” Eccles said of the process.
Volunteers and professionals used brushes to cover ground, but, as was evidenced by her paint-speckled fingers, Eccles sometimes used her hands for finer details, such as the eggs beneath the hen.
The paint used for the mural is specially made to be applied to streets, Eccles said. It will not be sealed, so it will require touch-ups from time to time.
Eccles relied on the help of Corri Flaker, the on-street bikeways manager for GetAbout Columbia, to recruit volunteers for the project. Flaker used word-of-mouth and social media to promote it, Eccles said. She said they also spoke to people who passed through as volunteers primed the roadway.
From graduate students to neighbors walking their dogs, help came in some unexpected packages.
“Anyone is welcome,” said MU graduate student Sara Semelka. “You don’t have to know anything about painting. It’s just relaxing.”
Li Tang, an MU junior, said volunteering with the mural was a way for her to take a break from the stress of class and work.
Gatson, 57, of Columbia, stopped while driving his car Wednesday evening, and again Thursday. What began as a detour became his call to the cause.
Gaston said he first came to help prime but brought back his friend Edwards. Edwards and Eccles started collaborating, while Gatson offered security by directing traffic and keeping the area free of commuters.
The mural takes up the width and height of the intersection and honors the urban gardens up and down the block. The garden closest to the mural is coincidentally, but fittingly, fenced with old bicycle tires.
“I think it’s beautiful,” said Jennifer Roberts, 36, of Columbia, as she passed through with her dog. Roberts enjoys visiting Kansas City and said she was reminded of that city as she looked at the mural.
“In Kansas City, you cannot turn your head without seeing art," she said. "I would love to see Columbia get to that point. It just makes it a better place to live.”
The second mural of the Bike Boulevard project will be located at the intersection of Windsor and Melbourne streets. Preparation, including cleaning, chalking and priming, is slated to start next week.
Painting is scheduled to begin 9 a.m. Sept. 11, weather permitting, and continue through Sept. 12. Volunteers of all ages and artistic abilities are welcome.