A dozen paint-smeared artists worked their brushes over giant wood panels Saturday as one man paced back and forth, watching, joking and conferring with the painters now and again.
As the mural’s lead artist, Ken Carter of Prosser served more like a conductor than a painter.
“I peruse up and down, and just kind of oversee,” he said.
In just a few hours, the team brought to life an image from days long gone -- children tying up horses at a barn behind one of the city’s earliest schools. The finished painting will be one of more than 70 murals decorating the city of Toppenish, which bills itself as a place “where the West still lives.”
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For nearly a quarter century, the Toppenish Mural Society has added to the collection with its annual Mural in a Day. Each mural, many of which are about 50 feet long and 12 feet tall, is based on a guide painting, which at about 3 feet long and a foot tall, is a more manageable size.
“It’s a big job just getting all that paint on the wall in one day,” Carter said. “It’s a process.”
That process begins nearly a year earlier, when the mural society’s board of directors picks a theme and lead artist for the next image. With input from board members, the artist produces the guide painting. This year required less work because the mural is a reproduction of one made in 1995 that had to be taken down when the wall it was painted on started rotting.
While the guide is being finalized, Toppenish Mural Society president Karen Gulley-Wesselius gets artists from around the Northwest to volunteer their time.“I beg them. I ask them really nicely,” she said.
To help things move smoothly on Saturday, Carter and Gulley-Wesselius spent two days prepping. They mixed paints, and Carter outlined the painting on the wood panels.That way the other artists can come in and just paint, Carter said. “It’s sort of like paint-by-numbers.”
That is, paint-by-numbers for professional artists and dedicated amateurs.
A steady stream of spectators came by, and stands were even set up for people to sit and watch.
Mural in a Day is the city’s largest annual event, said Zach Dorr, CEO of the Toppenish Chamber of Commerce.
About 800 people were expected to come by this year to see the painting, and nearly 30 craft and food vendors attended, he said.
Despite the size of the finished painting, the artists put in the details -- the folds on a girl’s dress or sunlight on a tree -- with tiny brushes less than a half-inch wide.“There are times you’re up close and you think, ’Yeah, this looks good,’” Carter said. “But you have to step back 20 feet, and sometimes you say, ’OK, that doesn’t look like what I thought it did.’”
The more experienced painters pass on advice to the younger ones, including two Toppenish High School students.
Cesar Ramirez, a freshman, jumped at the opportunity.
“You get to be a part of Toppenish history,” he said.