As visitors and area residents travel past the east side of Suzanne Schwichtenberg’s downtown Faribault building, The Upper East Side, they may now notice an eye-catching work of art.
Throughout the last month, local artist Jeff Jarvis has been diligently painting a design he and Schwichtenberg came up with to bring some positive energy to the community amid the pandemic. Work on the mural is done for the season, and will gain more details and touch ups next spring.
Schwichtenberg, who offers paint and sip classes in her studio, reasoned that decorated the back of her building was the perfect touch for the kind of business she is in and a good way to give others an opportunity to see a work of art without needing to go inside.
“Because of COVID, a lot of people cannot go inside to see art or to be creative, so we wanted to give them the opportunity during this crazy time where they can drive by and see some art and be outside,” said Schwichtenberg. “…and just to add a little bit of positiveness. When people come down the viaduct they can see it and also those in the alley.”
The illumination from the street lights, Jarvis said, bringing a cool touch to the night scene. That mean that no matter the time of day, those who pass by will immediately notice the brightened up building.
A perfect canvas
After Jarvis approached Schwichtenberg about painting a mural in early summer, she was all for creating something fun.
Added Jarvis, “I walked by this building for years thinking it was a perfect canvas. It’s white and it looks like a canvas. It also has a real nice texture like what’s on a canvas with the stucco.”
The stucco was the main reason Jarvis and Schwichtenberg were able to paint on the building, since painting directly on brick buildings in the city’s Historic District is not permitted.
The mural alludes to the building’s layers of history and brings spirit to the back alleyway. Schwichtenberg said they tried to bring back what the building, built in the 1800s, would’ve looked like. Jarvis used the building’s windows, painted curves above them, similar to the architectural elements prevalent in those days, and painted flowers in flower boxes beneath them to add a pop of color. The original building color remains on a large part of the building, with the addition of “painterly” effects like highlights and shadows to add depth. The cone-shaped part of the mural, where the zipper folds back, consists of a triangular highlight, as well as a darker shadow to the right of it.
Due to the outdoor location, Jarvis had to keep an eye on paint drying times, as breeze and sunshine would dry the paint faster. If he used paint that takes longer to dry, condensation could occur one hour before dark and make the water-based paint run. The uncertainty of the day’s weather also made coordinating the rental of the boom slightly challenging, as they didn’t always align with one another. Schwichtenberg said the process of timing the work created a fun juggling act.
Typically, with a project of this size, Jarvis says a projector is used at night to track measurements. Since there are several streetlights near the building, that wasn’t possible. As an alternative, he scaled the design up 2,012% and made enlargements of the key areas, like the zipper and the zipper handle.
He “guesstimated” the rest and used cardboard templates for the corner blocks, tape to define areas that would hold certain colors and used wider tape patches to make the small windows in the skyline. A sponge was also used to add soft touches of color. Although Jarvis experienced some challenges in the logistics and height, as there was a definite way he had to proceed in order for the mural to be fairly accurate.
Overall, he says, the project was a blessing.
“It’s really nice being on this side of it now and seeing it how it is … [and there’s been an] outpouring of [thousands of] comments on Facebook,” said Jarvis. “I think the most important thing is it took me out of the everyday worries when you don’t have a project to work on, while getting out and seeing people.”
For Schwichtenberg, it’s been rewarding both working with Jarvis and learning the history of her building and downtown Faribault. As someone who typically paints on an 11x14-inch canvas, she said it’s also been interesting learning about the process Jarvis went through to get the painting to the needed size. Now that there’s progress with brightening up that portion of downtown, Schwichtenberg hopes others will keep take a cue from them.
“Whether it’s Jeff or someone else, let’s keep the creativity flowing in downtown Faribault,” said Schwichtenberg. “That’s my hope, and this is just the beginning, that other buildings in our district will have the opportunity to do something creative and bring optimism and opportunity to downtown Faribault, because downtown Faribault is beautiful.”