The Perry City Council gave its blessing Aug. 19 to an idea of the Art on the Prairie group for an eagle-themed patriotic mural on the north wall of the Josh Davis Memorial Plaza. The plaza was dedicated in November 2010 to U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Josh Davis of Perry, who was killed in action in Afghanistan in April 2010.
Jenny Eklund, president of the board of directors of the non-profit Art on the Prairie corporation, presented the council with the mural plan, which involves hiring Slater artist Shawn Palek, well known in Perry for his recent murals in the Perry Perk coffeehouse and on the back wall of the restored Sinclair gas station at Third and Willis, to paint the 90-foot wall for $4,500.
According to the proposal submitted to the council by Art on the Prairie, the mural will be “a visual representation of Perry’s commitment to the arts” and will provide “a civics, history and art lesson all in one.”
Joining Eklund at the Monday night meeting to pitch the idea to the city council were Pat Snyder, president of the Nudgers, an all-volunteer property-development group, and Matt McDevitt, also a Nudger and secretary of the Perry Economic Development Inc. (PEDI) investment group.
Before launching into details of the mural, Eklund reviewed for the council the decade-long success of the annual Art on the Prairie event and the development of Perry’s reputation as a center for the arts.
“We’ve been on the side of a semi,” she said. “We’ve been in national magazines. We’ve been in international magazines and newspapers and TV and on social media.” Eklund also listed a series of successful murals and other wall beautifications around Perry that she has been influential in bringing about.
Eklund said the mural would be painted on the south wall of the building that houses the Mandarin Cafe at 1117 Second St., owned and operated by Sun Wong since 2015. She reviewed the genesis of the idea for a mural at Josh Davis Memorial Plaza.
“Sun came to me a few years ago and wanted a mural on his wall,” Eklund said, “but he wanted it to be, like, Oriental, with dragons and something and something, and it just didn’t connect in my head. I couldn’t make that happen. So after time and discussions, and it then became Josh Davis Plaza, then we decided to — why don’t we do something to dedicate it to all the service men and women and have it be the American flag where the eagle’s wings turn into the flag, and then Josh Davis’ dog tags would be around the eagle’s neck?”
According to records of the Dallas County Assessor, the plaza was bought by the city of Perry in 2010 from the Hotel Perry LLC for $16,560. The Hotel Perry LCC bought the property in 2008 from Pattee Enterprises Inc. for $1.1 million and so realized a significant loss on its transaction with the city two years later.
Eklund said Palek’s design for an eagle-themed mural — sketched out in five minutes “so we could show it to the council,” she said — has Wong’s approval as well as the approval of Josh Davis’ family.
“The Josh Davis family is — you can just about imagine what they’re thinking and feeling,” Eklund said feelingly.
She said the Art on the Prairie plan proposes removing or trimming the northeasternmost tree in the Josh Davis Memorial Plaza and removing the black, wrought-iron or steel latticework that runs parallel to the building about two feet to its south.
McDevitt also spoke in favor of the mural plan, even after Perry City Administrator Sven Peterson said that “since Matt is here, we’ll make sure to limit comments to five minutes,” jokingly alluding to McDevitt’s reputation for loquacity.
McDevitt said PEDI supports the mural plan, and the Perry Chamber of Commerce “in conjunction with Art on the Prairie and the Josh Davis family” has pledged $1,500 toward the patriotic project.
He said local lawn-care and tree-care companies will donate the cost of the tree’s removal, and one has offered to plant two new trees on city property to offset the removal of the one tree from the plaza. McDevitt noted the trellis is very sturdily placed, but the Nudgers volunteers are willing remove it and then powerwash the wall and prime it to receive the right kind of paint.
Peterson, who is also the Art on the Prairie co-treasurer and the board’s technical director, according to the Art on the Prairie website, said the Perry Parks and Recreation Department and Perry Public Works Department would assist with trimming or removing the tree and relocating and repurposing the trellis.
McDevitt said the mural would add to the momentum of economic development in the downtown area, and he noted the steady growth of the farmers market and the many new retailers reoccupying old and long-vacant buildings downtown. He said the Josh Davis Memorial Plaza is preferable to the Veterans Memorial at Eighth and Bateman streets as a location for the mural.
“We have our Veterans Memorial,” he said, “but it’s kind of out a ways towards the elementary school. I would guess that we have a heck of a lot more foot traffic downtown. So we think we wanted to enhance that space by honoring our veterans, which I think the city does do a good job of, and we think what I’ll call phase one is this first mural.”
The mural would signal the city’s ongoing commitment to downtown prosperity, McDevitt said.
“For us to continue to enhance our downtown is important to us,” he said, “and it’s also important to people that have invested their time and money in those buildings, and it’s also important for our city for tourism. Perry Economic Development recognizes how important it is for public art and for us to rebrand Perry for, I guess I would say, the new millenium.”
Downtown retailer and Nudgers President Pat Snyder echoed the sentiments of Eklund and McDevitt.
“People are doing great things here,” Snyder said, “and I just think this would enhance what we’re already doing.”
City Council member Chuck Schott asked what effect the commotion of removing the trellis and painting the wall would have on the weekly farmers market, and he was concerned about long-term maintenance of the mural.
“When it starts to peel and the painting starts to look bad,” Schott said, “who’s going to be here to redo it, to resurface it, to repaint it, to keep it looking nice like it needs to be kept nice?”
McDevitt said the mural planners have not discussed long-term upkeep, but he was confident the wall would be maintained in perpetuity.
“I really think it’s grand,” he said. “I have the support of all of our groups and the Josh Davis family, and I think it’s something we should do.”
Perry City Council member Dean Berkland made a “motion to move forward” with the mural and to grant city approval, provided the tree in the Josh Davis Memorial Plaza were trimmed but not removed, and council member Vicki Klein seconded the motion. Council member Barb Wolling was the sole vote against the motion.
“I like murals,” Wolling told ThePerryNews.com. “Don’t get me wrong. I think they’re a nice addition, but I really like the park the way it is. I really like the trees, and I really like the trellis that’s already in there for other art work.”
Wolling also said she felt the eagle-themed mural “was a little bit gaudy” for the memorial plaza.
“It looks like a Freedom Rock on a wall,” she said. “If it were different art, I might feel differently, but I’m like, ‘Meh. I’m not fond of that.’ But it’s going to go forward, and hopefully it will be okay.”