Downtown mural reaches completion

Lindsay Stoffers explains the symbolism behind the fish she painted on the Gill Street extension mural Tuesday afternoon in downtown Laramie. The mural’s dedication is at 5:30 p.m. today.

Laramie’s newest large-scale mural effort completes a project started in 2013, and a dedication for the mural is scheduled for tonight.

The dedication for the Gill Street extension, which is located in the alley behind 308 S. Second St., is set for 5:30 p.m. today. Participating artists will be on hand to discuss the process of painting a school of larger-than-life fish on the alley walls.

The original Gill Street mural is a collection of fish paintings along the alley that runs from Grand to Garfield between First and Second streets. You can’t miss it if you happen down First Street.

Trey Sherwood, Laramie Main Street Alliance executive director, said the original plan for the mural included extending it down most of the alley. The full vision couldn’t be completed, however, until a key piece of property changed hands.

Sherwood credited Billie Eckhardt, who runs Bent and Rusty Cotton Company at 308 S. Second St., with allowing for the mural’s extension when she purchased the building.

“The original image was always intended to be that size, so it was really exciting,” Sherwood said.

The new portion of the mural features work by 13 artists who are new to the mural scene in Laramie.

“One of the biggest wins for us was to be able to continue that piece and still have it be collaborative work,” she said.

The collaborative effort was helped along with coaching from mural veterans, who lent help with scale, placement, paint colors and technique.

“It was really fun to see that second generation of artists be coached by those first pioneers,” she said.

Nancy Marlatt, an artist who works primarily in watercolor, contributed “Puzzle Fish” to the mural. She described the image — featuring bright, multi-colored puzzle pieces — as a tribute to people in the community with autism and other neurological conditions. That community includes her son, Cooper, who is 10.

“The inspiration was about celebrating neuro-diversity,” she said.

She invited community members to dedicate and help paint puzzle pieces for themselves or in honor of loved ones. No names appear on the pieces, however, as a way to enlarge the community to anyone who wants to be included.

“It was about bringing those individuals together,” Marlatt said. “I want anybody who identifies as neuro-diverse to be able to come down here and see that this is their fish.”

Like Marlatt, artist Lindsay Stoffers was also inspired by her son when she designed her fish, which sits to the left of Marlatt’s. She began the design when she was eight months pregnant with River, who was born the day painting began and just turned 1.

The image is covered with symbols from Aboriginal, West African, Wiccan, Native American and other traditions, representing femininity, loyalty, strength, courage, community and connection. It also includes small tributes to her son, such as a hand print.

Stoffers said she started the image as she was leaving an abusive relationship and entering motherhood on her own.

“I wanted to feel strength within the pregnancy because it’s a really vulnerable time,” she said.

Stoffers, who works as a clinical mental health counselor for Albany County School District, said she often uses expressive art as a tool to facilitate therapy with her students.

“You can tell your story through your artwork, and part of what I taught I was putting here as a healing process for myself,” she said.

Both artists said they were urged to join the Gill Street project by fellow muralists. Other artists loaned equipment, and local business owners offered storage space and allowed access on their property.

“We really couldn’t do this without community support,” Marlatt said.

Gill Street and the new extension are part of a group of 20 murals across the downtown district, which have been popping up since 2011. Some are large and prominent, while others are tucked into alleys and hidden around corners.

The Laramie Mural Project is a collaborative effort that includes the University of Wyoming Art Museum, downtown business owners, Laramie Main Street Alliance and local artists.

The mural project doesn’t use city or county funding. Instead, murals are funded through grants, donations and fundraising events. Artists receive a stipend, and most materials are purchased locally.

“The Laramie Mural Project is a platform for local artists to reflect back to the community the things they love about living in Laramie,” Sherwood said.

The project will have a booth at this week’s Downtown Farmer’s Market. A self-guided audio tour is available at www.laramiemuralproject.org, along with artist biographies.

Free guided mural walking tours are scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Aug. 24 and Sept. 14, starting at The Wyoming House for Historic Women, 321 S. Second St.

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