When Richmark Real Estate asked Betony Coons to paint a mural on the side of one of its brand new buildings, the first place she called was the Greeley History Museum.
That’s not always the place to go to kick off a creative process, but after some initial back-and-forth, Richmark wanted Coons to paint a mural with symbols that represent Greeley.
Coons, a longtime resident and artist with some of the most recognizable and prolific murals in Downtown Greeley, knew Greeley well, but she wanted to know more about the city’s history. So she called the museum to nail down what Union Colony’s guiding principles were when Nathan Meeker founded it in 1870. Union Colony, of course, was the canvas for today’s Greeley, a history the museum itself touches on with its own murals you can see from the Ice Haus parking lot. Her job was to represent each one of those principles with an object.
“We aren’t Loveland and Fort Collins and Boulder,” said Adam Frazier, Vice President of Real Estate for Richmark. “We wanted something to demonstrate all the things Greeley is. We want our projects to be unique and feel very Downtown Greeley.”
In addition to making the art locale-specific, the other idea was to make it fun, despite the somewhat stodgy topic of the history of a city. Frazier said the walk from the University of Northern Colorado to the center of Downtown Greeley was less than a mile, but it felt longer “because it’s just not very fun.”
“We are hoping to revitalize 8th Avenue,” Frazier said, work which the city has already started the last few years with its art trees and street improvements in that corridor. “We want people to enjoy their walk, and this is a really simple way to add fun to the street,” Frazier said. He hopes to add more murals to other properties as they’re developed by his company.
From a design perspective, Coons found herself challenged with how to include some of the aforementioned principles, including perhaps Union Colony’s most famous one: temperance. Not only is “the active moderation of libation intake” hard to paint, but ironically, one of the reasons downtown continues to thrive is the world class breweries and distilleries it inspired. Coons eventually chose a scale to represent the balance one needs to enjoy liquor responsibly.
Coons also flexed her creative muscle for representing irrigation, as she initially went with a watering can but replaced it with a rain cloud at the last minute. She also tried to find ways to give the symbols double meanings: A train was not only a nod to the downtown museum but captured the idea of moving West, which Horace Greeley implored with his famous “Go West, Young Man” phrase. The bucking bronco represented the Greeley Stampede rodeo but also Greeley’s agriculture and frontier roots.
The mural is big, and at times during its creation she was perched so high, it made her a little jittery. Maybe that’s why she accidentally kicked over a can of bright orange paint that splattered all the way down the building.
“I was thinking – they have this beautiful apartment, and I just ‘decorated’ it with bright orange paint,” Coons said and laughed. “Fortunately I was able to remove it all. That was a phone call I didn’t want to make.”
She was nervous for another reason as well: She was self-conscious of the fact that this mural would get a lot of eyes, given that it is on a building that criss-crosses two of Greeley’s most heavily traveled streets.
“Oh yeah,” Coons said. “When I see it now, I wish I had changed a few things. I’m always like that. But it’s an honor to have it up there. I was thankful to be included.”