Creston mural reaches the end of lifespan

Web Lead

  • Mar. 21, 2011 6:00 a.m.
The Four Seasons mural during its creation by Stefan Bell in 1987.

The Four Seasons mural during its creation by Stefan Bell in 1987.

Since 1987, the Four Seasons mural on 11th Avenue at Canyon Street has been a Creston landmark. But crumbling of the stucco wall the mural is painted on is about to end a quarter-century reign of beauty.

“Some big chunks came down during the last big windstorm,” Pharmasave co-owner Mike Ramaradhya told Creston town council last week. “We are concerned about our liability and for the safety of pedestrians and vehicles.”

He explained that the weight of the vertical stucco wall was conspiring with gravity — the base of the wall has been crumbling for years.

The mural, which would become the first in a series scattered throughout the downtown core, was painted by Stefan Bell, who now resides in Japan. Bell, who trained as a graphic artist, approached the owners of what was then McDowell’s Department Store, having identified the huge west wall as a suitable location for a large mural. Brian and Ian McDowell agreed to have the stucco wall redone, and solicited help from others to help raise funds to purchase paint and supplies and to pay for Bell’s services.

A group of business and professional people banded together and formed the Swan Valley Mural Society. A revitalization grant from the province, support from the Town of Creston, private donations and a number of fundraising events allowed the project to go ahead.

In the spring of 1987, the old stucco wall was pulled off, and new mesh and fresh stucco were applied. Scaffolding was assembled and Bell went to work, sketching the outline of the collage he had designed while working with the society. The building’s step-down façade lent itself perfectly to be divided into quarters, each of which would depict a season in the Creston Valley.

Once Bell got to work with his paintbrushes and airbrush equipment, the painting process became a source of entertainment in downtown Creston. He spent time with anyone who had questions and could often be seen chatting with youngsters who were fascinated by the enormity of the project.

Throughout the summer, it became apparent that the artist had an impish sense of humour. He painted the curler from a local photograph and, when the woman objected to seeing herself in the mural, he changed the face and hairstyle. But he kept the images of the cross-country skiers, who were local residents, and put his daughter into the lower part of the northernmost panel (she’s the girl on the fence, arm pointing upward).

Bell himself appears in the spring panel, painting a huge grizzly bear with one hand and holding juggling paraphernalia in the other. The 100-foot-long mural depicts numerous recreational scenes, wildlife, an abundance of fruit and vegetables, and several different flowers. When he put the finishing touches on the huge apple in Fall, the southern panel, passersby stopped to stare at the brilliant colours and realness of its appearance. Raindrops with tiny reflections painted on each gave the apple a “reach out and touch it” quality.

The mural was completed on September 3, 1987 and, after a suitable curing period for the paint, coats of a clear acrylic were rolled on to help protect the paint from weather and the hot summer sun.

“Mural society members have told me they expected the paint to last for 10 to 15 years,” Ramaradhya said. “Twenty-four years later, I think we can all agree we’ve had a good run with it. Producing photographs that were taken while the painting was underway, he showed how much the colours have faded over time.

At the suggestion of town council, the possibility of reproducing the mural onto vinyl from a photograph was explored. While such a reproduction can be done, the cost is high and the vinyl has only about a six-year life expectancy, Ramaradhya said.

“We propose to remove the old stucco from the building and having siding to match the storefront installed,” he said. “We will leave four large panels in frames so that new murals can be created.”

Ramaradhya said he and business partner Jody McBlain are willing to work with Community Pride or the Community Arts Council of Creston and the Town of Creston, to facilitate creation of new murals that will once again make the wall an attraction for local residents and tourists.

Pleased by public response to the Four Seasons mural, the Creston Valley Mural Society went on to raise funds and hire artists to create several other murals. One, depicting the Creston Valley Wildlife Management Area, remains in good condition on the Shoppers Drug Mart wall on 11th Avenue North. Another, painted by B.C. artist Roger Kamp, was destroyed when Sunset Seed Co. on Cook Street burned down. Kamp also painted the now badly faded mural on the former school board office on Canyon Street and 16th Avenue.

The society also sponsored mural painting contests and numerous smaller murals were created in the Cook Street parking lot and retaining wall. The group disbanded in the 1990s. Other local murals have been the projects of privately owned businesses and Community Pride.

A committee has been struck by town council to work with Ramaradhya and McBlain to create new murals on the Pharmasave wall.

“It’s a bit sad — sort of the end of an era for downtown — but I think the building’s owners deserve our thanks for being sensitive to the issue and for coming up with a way to have art continue to be a major feature on Canyon Street,” said Mayor Ron Toyota.