Town Pump Working with Local Artists
Recognizing a Need
Driving highway-93 through the thick forest, past the rolling grassy pastureland, and down the hill into town, the Town Pump gas station greets all who enter Eureka from the South. Town Pump has begun a project to expand their parking lot and in the process, build a concrete retaining wall with a 4 ft. chain link fence above it.
In what is now the Town Pump parking lot, there used to be a little overgrown park. Savahna Schuhmacher had always thought it would be fun to restore the park and create another space in town for children and families. Though the park was leveled and is now a parking lot, she still had her eye on it as an area of town that could use some affection.
Savahna, who worked as a muralist for years, read the story about the new wall and saw it as a blank canvas, a place to leave a mark of beauty on an ordinary object, and a chance to collaborate with other community members to make a lasting first impression on those who pass through. Savahna hatched a plan to make the mundane concrete wall and fence into a piece of art. She hoped this small project would bring a project to the community that stood for Eureka’s commitment to aesthetic, multipurpose use, and collaboration.
Asking for Help
Many different people have been behind the project from its inception, through the planning process, and into fruition. Savahna knew it would be easier to accomplish her goal if she reached out to community members and fellow artists. She first presented the idea at a community meeting called Collaboration of the Minds, a group that meets to discuss Eureka’s needs and finds volunteers with the skills to meet those needs. Everyone in the meeting agreed that something should happen to the concrete wall, and Savahna was appointed as the lead on the project.
She knew the next step was to contact Town Pump, but she was fearful of picking up the phone and asking for what she wanted from a big business. The people at Collaboration of the Minds encouraged Savahna, and she finally worked up the courage to make the call.
Savahna found that Town Pump was not like other large companies that have automated messages and people answering phones all over the world. Town Pump proved to be a Montana owned business that will give Montana people time and energy, and Savahna soon got in touch with the construction and development director, Dan Sampson. She learned from Dan that the wall boasted 1425 square feet of exposed concrete and would be 327 feet long.
Savahna asked Dan the big question: Was Town Pump willing to consider alternatives to their current plan? She was unsure of what the answer would be, given that they had already signed a contract with the city and were moving ahead with their plans. They had every reason to say no, but Savahna wanted them to say yes. She volunteered to do the research needed to find the best option at the lowest cost, and Dan said he was willing to work with her.
Savahna then went to a city council meeting to ask for support. The council was excited to hear the aesthetic of the project was being addressed. So many people had played a part in arranging the nuts and bolts of the project, there was little time or energy left to consider how it would look.
Ideas become reality
Savahna first found an aluminum fence to replace the chain link. The new fence was equally safe and affordable, yet more attractive. What she had to think of next was how to create art on the sprawling concrete wall with limited time and money.
Savahna solicited her friend Jennifer Shermerhorn to help with the project. Jennifer makes freehand art out of metal using a technique called plasma cutting – using a superheated plasma torch to cut metals. The artists found inspiration in a style of mural called reverse graffiti. They intend to spray around metal cutouts with concrete stain to create a silhouette of the images they design.
The idea was perfect for the limited budget of the project and the skills of the artists. Savahna and Jennifer will both donate their time creating the mural, and Town Pump will purchase the materials. They wanted something striking that would last a long time, and to achieve the best effects at the lowest cost.When the mural is complete, it will have a patterned, layered look. The prints will be held against the wall and sprayed with concrete dye. Concrete dye is different from paint in that it does not chip or fade as easily. The silhouettes will be images of native trees, flowers, and other natural foliage. When the painting is done, the artists will mount the metal cutout on the wall to give the mural is 3-dimensional aesthetic.
Currently, the wall is finished and the fence will go up soon. When construction is gone, the artists will get to work.
Savahna feels this project is a perfect example of reciprocity in town. Often, no individual has the time or money to accomplish a project such as this. But when many individuals take a small piece of the work, they can fill needs in the community and accomplish more.
Savahna believes Town Pump’s willingness to work with her idea and alter their plans even after signing a contract shows “a lot of commitment to our town.” She hopes this project can be the first of many collaborative efforts to make Eureka a more welcoming place for locals and visitors.