A massive artwork in Toledo


By Marilyn Delk

Darke County Center for the Arts has been granted funds to help underwrite the establishment of an Art Trail highlighting already existing community art while underwriting the commissioning of new pieces which would add further cultural value and pride to our community. Work is underway to choose an artist to create a new sculpture which will be placed along Darke County Park District’s Tecumseh Trail and Bike Path. This exciting, innovative initiative is somewhat similar to a project currently going on in Toledo.

While watching CBS Sunday Morning a couple of weeks ago, I learned of the newly created giant mural covering about 170,000 square feet of space on 28 grain silos standing along the banks of the Maumee River. I am now eagerly anticipating traveling up Interstate 75 soon so that I can see this impressive piece of art, which may be entered in the Guinness Book of World Records for its huge size; however, the Glass City River Wall’s origins and message contain complexity and meaning far beyond its amazing width and breadth.

A few years ago, a couple of Toledo women went on a Maumee River boat ride; while floating past the somewhat depressing wall of grey silos, they came up with a creative thought: “We should paint that!” They then went to work to make their creative idea actually come to pass. Archer Daniels Midland, owner of the silos, put up some seed money, then large and small businesses as well as Toledo citizens of all stripes pitched in to raise the $750,000 required to hire an artist as well as purchase about 5,000 gallons of paint for a crew of local artisans to spread across the vast concrete “canvas.”

California artist Gabe Gault, known for his focus on individuals dedicated to making a positive difference in our culture, was commissioned to design the massive work of art. As a young student with a reading disability, Gault had turned to art as a meaningful method of expression; he says that his objective for the River Wall project was to tell a powerful story “that is colorful, bold, simple, and readable, to offer an origin story honoring the original farmers of the region as well as providing an inspirational image for the future.”

The theme for the art project formulated by community members of all backgrounds honors first farmers, Native Americans and economic development, and was based on a stone monument found along the river commemorating the area as a Native American fortification. The project’s operation manager says that the team developing the theme wanted to honor Native Americans as the first people to recognize the Maumee River’s value to the prosperity of the area.

Gault’s vision for the mural uses three Native American faces, each over a hundred feet tall, as well as an abundance of sunflowers symbolizing hope and positivity. The team of other artists working with Gault to bring his design to life breaks the drawing down into 1” by 1” segments, then enlarges those segments into 10 x 10 sections on the wall, trusting their skills to create the intended image as they paint since there is no way to step back and observe how work is progressing other than driving past the site after the day’s work is done.

Although Toledo has gained respect as a glass capital of the world and the Toledo Art Museum is truly a treasure, my opinion of the city was pretty much summed up in the John Denver song lamenting the fact that a Saturday night in Toledo, Ohio “is like being nowhere at all.” That perspective has been totally shattered by this community project embodying the art of the possible; I can hardly wait to view the inspired and inspiring results of a group of people working together while following their dream to create art that uplifts their heritage and their city, as well as the spirits of all those who pass by to partake of the impressive result of their efforts.

Marilyn Delk is the former executive director of the Darke County Center for the Arts and can be reached at [email protected]. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.

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