Going up: Crew hangs mural in downtown Big Rapids

Joseph Rockey uses a framing square to check the alignment of a mural panel as Gary Farrell (center) and Scott Nordland (right) hold the section in place. The three men, from Steve Jones Construction, hung the new mural Wednesday on the north side of the Fairman Building in Big Rapids.(Pioneer photo/Candy Allan)

Artist to visit Big Rapids, speak on Monday

BIG RAPIDS — A new piece of artwork graces downtown Big Rapids today after a crew finished assembling and hanging a mural depicting the area’s logging history.

The painting, which measures 12 feet by 64 feet, consists of 24 4-foot-by-8-foot panels and took artist John Kuna three months to complete. It’s so large he hadn’t been able to see it completely assembled, as only about half the panels at a time would fit in his workshop.

“It’s like a big puzzle, a 24-piece puzzle,” said Scott Nordland, a member of the three-man crew from Steve Jones Construction which hung the mural Wednesday.

Beginning with the bottom panel in the center of the prepared space on the north wall of the Fairman Building, the men worked upward and outward to place each panel in its correct location.

The hanging process was completed Wednesday afternoon.

Kuna was commissioned by the 2018 Festival of the Arts committee to create the artwork. The Festival committee has developed a tradition of giving a piece of artwork to Big Rapids after each year’s events.

“We want to make sure there’s something lasting from the Festival,” said Miriam Andrus, a committee member. “We have people who live here who aren’t here in the winter, so we want to give enjoyment that lasts all year round.

Joseph Rockey attaches a mural panel to the prepared backing on the wall of the Fairman Building. (Pioneer photo/Candy Allan)

“It’s also nice that Big Rapids has an opportunity to become an artistic hub,” she continued, listing past sculptures and murals given to the city by the Festival. “It brightens up Big Rapids and gives back to the community that financially sponsors the Festival by providing something that lasts outside the Festival itself.”

Though the month of February has just a week left, several events are still scheduled for area residents to enjoy.

“If you haven’t been to a Festival of the Arts event yet, it’s not too late,” Andrus said.

One of the remaining events is a presentation by Kuna on the process of creating a mural, set for 5 p.m. Monday, Feb. 26, at Artworks, 106 N. Michigan Ave. During his presentation Monday, Kuna will describe the process he uses to create a mural, explain why he chose the imagery he did and why he decided to paint it in a realistic style, among other topics.

Kuna, a Canadian immigrant who was born in Czechoslovakia, studied at Ontario College of Art and Design and began specializing in murals shortly after graduation. To ensure a mural retains the right scale and color tones throughout its expanse requires a lot of pre-planning, he said.

Kuna begins with photos of the actual site, which he uses to create a blueprint to scale. Using that scaled plan, he transfers his design from a smaller prototype to the finished size, stopping occasionally to check his work.

“Say you’re painting a forest with trees in the foreground and in the background,” he said. “When you’re standing on the scaffold painting it, it looks like a big abstract mess. While it helps to have a design to know what you’re doing, you often have to climb down from the scaffold and step back to look at it.”

In addition to having a detailed, drawn-to-scale plan to help as he paints, Kuna notes a lot of getting a mural to look right is practice. Over his 15 years as a muralist, he’s had plenty of that.

“When I started, I’d have to climb down every half hour or hour to check the painting, and now I can do it twice a day,” he said.

It takes several weeks to create a mural, but that’s not necessarily due to the size of the finished product. Most paintings take a month and a half to two months to complete, he said, unlike the three-month timeframe for the one now hanging downtown.

“The scale doesn’t matter as much as the level of detail does,” Kuna said. “If I painted (the Big Rapids mural) on a smaller scale, say 4 feet high, it would take about the same amount of time because it would have the same amount of detail. That’s one of the most detailed pieces I’ve ever designed.”

By Wednesday afternoon, the complete mural by John Kuna, commissioned by the Festival of the Arts comittee, hung on the side of the Fairman Building. (Pioneer photo/Candy Allan)

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Posted by Candy Allan

Candy is the Pioneer's associate editor. She also coordinates the Family & Friends, Religion and Parenting pages. She can be reached by phone at (231) 592-8386 or by e-mail at callan@pioneergroup.com.

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