If youre like most of us, youve probably done a double-take at the newest residents of downtown Vandalia.
Lets see, theres a young boy playing with a puppy, a woman in a floor-length white dress descending a stairway and the newcomer a man with an old-fashioned bicycle, the kind with a huge front wheel.
They dont get around much. In fact, you can see them in the same place day after day.
No need to call the police to disperse these loiterers, though.
These downtown fixtures arent of the flesh-and-blood variety. Theyre nicely painted murals, created by a local artist, on a thin sheet of metal.
It all started with the thought of putting murals in the upstairs windows of the former Cains Pharmacy building, said Vandalia Main Street Program Director Dana Whiteman. But the more we thought about it, we felt it would have more impact if it were done at street level.
The first murals were placed this spring on the east side of the Fehren Building, which houses Gabys Gift Gallery, at the northwest corner of Fifth and Gallatin streets. The latest addition, the bicycler, was added last month at Wiseguy’s Bar and Restaurant.
All are done by Kevin Schaal, of the Starving Artists Studios of Vandalia. Schaal, who has a graphic arts degree and has done 35 or 40 oil paintings, saw this project as a way to make his contribution to the downtown area.
It shows that the town cares about the downtown, he said. Tourists think its neat especially since the characters have a Lincoln-era feel. The paintings are done on sheet metal and given several coats of sealant to keep out the weather. Once the painting is done, the figures are cut out by P&G Machine of Vandalia.
We hope to continue it, Whiteman said. The murals give our downtown a sense of place they make it unique and personal.
The murals do add a whimsical element to the downtown atmosphere. They are a welcome and creative departure from the expected fare.
With the recent discussions by Main Street officials about encouraging the development of loft apartments on the second floors of downtown buildings, it may make sense to follow up on the original idea to place murals depicting scenes in some of those upstairs windows. Until we get them filled with real people, it might help sell the idea to have the murals dressing up the second floor.
The first murals have been funded by grants to Main Street from the Scarpaci Foundation. Were hoping the foundation and interested individuals continue to support this worthwhile addition to the downtown district. Its yet another feature that sets Vandalia apart from other communities.