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The writing on the wall
Artist Julia Meek’s giant Fort Wayne mural takes shape thanks to Wells street façade grant
By Michael Summers
Fort Wayne Reader
To hear Julia Meek tell it, it all started with Sam Hyde’s love of a Mastodon…
In 2005, Meek — an area artist who also hosts the radio program Folktales on NIPR — created a Mastodon for the “Mastodons on Parade” event. Her beast took the theme of “Share the Experience” and depicted a Fort Wayne cityscape with parks, historic landmarks, and other iconic sights. “Sam (Hyde, Meek’s boss at Hyde Brothers Books) fell in love with, and bonded with, my Mastodon,” laughs Meek.
Hyde did not get Meek’s Mastodon when the statues were auctioned off. But flash forward to 2009, and a version of that Fort Wayne cityscape that so impressed Hyde will grace the side of his store on Wells street.
Meek is currently working on an enormous mural that will stretch across one of the exterior walls of Hyde Brothers Books. “We’ve been talking about this big blank space we have over here for several years now,” recounts Sam Hyde, referring to south-facing wall of the store. Like Hyde says, it’s a big, white, empty space that seems like a natural target for “taggers” (graffiti artists). “We talked about using space for a mural years ago.”
The impetus was the façade grant the city made available to Wells Street businesses last fall. “They offered to pay half the expenses of almost anything that improved the exterior of the building, particularly anything unusual, innovative, unique…” says Hyde. “I have to admit to the feeling of all these years I’ve been paying taxes, and now I’m looking at the trough and thinking, ‘I better feed while it’s there’.”
The city loved the idea (other businesses on Wells are also taking advantage of the grant), and Hyde and Meek began talking about what they wanted to do. “Sam told me ‘if I really, really had my wish, I would just take your Mastodon, skin it, and throw it on the wall’,” Meek says.
So that, basically, is what Meek is doing. In addition to giving a nod to Wells street, the mural will also include a modern Fort Wayne cityscape with iconic buildings, business, and landmarks, and a section of the wall that illustrates the history of the city and the area. Everything represented in the mural seems to flow from an open book on the left hand corner of the wall. “I love to tell a good folktale, you know that,” says Meek. “So it’ll be like you open the book, and there’s the Fort Wayne story.”
Since the original Mastodon, Meek has done several similar cityscapes for various projects, including two “mini-Mastodons” and a Northeast Indiana ARC Eggstravaganza egg (she’s also illustrated two covers of the Fort Wayne Reader with images of Wells street and Main street in New Haven). The mural on the side of Hyde Brothers will be the sixth piece in her “Share the Experience” series. As she’s done on other, similar pieces, Meek sneaks a few personal references into the work — names, places, etc. “A lot of it is ‘whimsy,’ so I can have fun with it.”
Meek works from a basic sketch on paper and is currently drawing the image on the wall outside Hyde Brothers. She has a list of buildings and other Fort Wayne-centric things she wants to include. “I've just been updating my list,” she says. “There're about 90 landmarks/signs on the wall already and 65 more ‘to be drawn’, not counting all things Wells Street roughed along the bottom. Katy the original bookstore cat will be resting along side the book in approximate real size.”
Meek concedes that her list might not be complete, of course, so they’re having a contest. “We’re going to have the Room for One More contest,” she says. “If people think of something I don’t have on the mural or on my list, then they get a t-shirt if we use it on the wall.” Official ballots will be available at Hyde Brothers. Once the mural is done, there might be another contest with a prize for anyone who can name everything on the wall.
Meek hopes to move quickly on the project. “The two most important words in the mural painter's time frame? Weather permitting! But I think I’ll be quite far along, if not finished, by August.”
And she adds that visitors are fine. “We do encourage people to come watch,” she says. “I don’t talk, I just keep working, but you can see how it’s coming along.”
If you can’t make it out, you can also follow the progress of the mural on Stephen Parker’s website Around Fort Wayne (http://aroundfortwayne.info/blog/)