One of my favorite artists of all time was a Renaissance man by the name of Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni. Often referred to by his first name in the history books I studied, Michelangelo was a sculptor, painter, architect and poet whose work greatly influence the development of Western art.
Among his best-known works remains on display on the walls and ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City near Rome. Most of that work took four years to complete with additional pieces of art added to the chapel many years later.
The Mountain Home community saw a similar effort continue last week as a team of volunteers came together to transform one of the community's biggest eyesores into a must-visit destination. Celebrating its second anniversary, the Community Canvas of Mountain Home has turned parts of dirty, dingy and neglected areas into some tremendous works of art.
When I paid a visit to admire the latest additions to this growing collection of murals, I must admit that I was caught completely off guard. Trying to comprehend how much work it took to transform so much real estate into works of art left me astonished.
Truth be told, I couldn't fathom how these individuals were able to do so much in such a short amount of time, especially since it took Michelangelo and his team of artists years to finish their work. What I think really had me impressed was the fact these people were applying paint to these walls for hours a day during the course of three weeks to complete their work by the July 4 debut.
The fact that most of these "canvases" are constantly exposed to direct sunlight for hours at a time with the daytime temperatures reaching into the upper 90s really had me feeling humble.
Heck, it took me a full day just to repaint the hallway in my house, and I had the advantage of air conditioning to keep me from losing my cool. Even then, that little project left me exhausted.
I can't even begin to imagine the level of fatigue these artists were dealing with as they battled the heat and the unique challenges of painting these canvases, some of which were at least 14 feet in length or larger.
To make things even more challenging, most of these canvases were not located at ground level but situated close to the roofs of many of the businesses that allowed these artists to decorate their back walls. That meant having to either climb up and down a ladder constantly or waiting for a hydraulic lift to hoist these folks up so they could start working.
I also appreciate that many of the artists I spoke with had stories to share about their art and what inspired them to create those specific designs. Among them was Bobby Gaytan, who not only paid tribute to the migrant farm workers who toiled in the farmland across Elmore County but also honored the memory of his mother, who lost her battle against cancer just last year.
That one piece of art will definitely grab anyone's attention as they drive down East 2nd North Street.
Then there were others like Becky Wade, who painted a semi-scale version of an F-15E Strike Eagle based on the fighters stationed at Mountain Home Air Force Base. Truth be told, I think she had the biggest challenge because there are so many people in this town that have worked at the base and personally know how these jets look.
I'm fairly convinced that Becky wanted to be 100 percent positive that she had every rivet and every panel on that jet as close to the real thing as possible. I'm also guessing that probably put a lot of extra stress on her shoulders.
I would be remiss if I didn't stop and applaud the efforts of others like teacher Christine Negri. She allowed dozens of students at Stephensen Elementary School on base to be a part of the Canvas effort by having them apply their handprints to her work.
I'm pretty sure those students will urge their parents to visit the Community Canvas on a regular basis so these youngsters can point out where their handprint is located on that one piece of art.
I need to emphasize that people in this town need to respect the artists and their work, even if they don't agree with what they've done. I say that because we had one case of reported vandalism after someone decided to tear some painted features off one of the canvases a few weeks back. That was absolutely unacceptable.
On a far more positive note, one of the biggest takeaways from this entire project is that everyone volunteered their time to make this happen. No one expected to earn a dime from what they did.
Then there were others in this community who provided financial support as well as in-kind donations of paint, supplies and equipment. It was their generosity that has made a huge difference in this community.
Make no mistake about it. What these folks have done is truly remarkable.
Before the Canvas project began last year, the alleyway in downtown Mountain Home looked absolutely horrible. It wasn't a place where people dared to venture, even during the day.
When the volunteers did their first sweep through the area picking up trash and removing all the debris, it was clear that this part of town had remained horribly neglected for years — perhaps much longer. Case in point: I watched two individuals haul off an entire sink that someone had tossed out the back of one business.
Looking to the future, it's my sincere hope that what these artists and other volunteers started will lead to even better things in our small community. With business owners now seeing how much good can come out of this growing community art gallery, perhaps this will give them the incentive they need to make this part of town start to shine.
After all, it took Michelangelo and his team of artists four years to make a chapel look so spectacular. We were able to do something similar in just a couple of weeks.
— Brian S. Orban