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Photo by Fred Pollard
Eric Stauffer, owner and proprietor of Dark Horse Art Works, stands before his under-construction exhibit, The Alton History Mural, on display at Alton Square Mall.
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Photo by Fred Pollard
The New Madrid Earthquakes of 1811-1812, by Jake Bishop, is one of 24 renderings of Alton’s history submitted by local artists that will make up The Alton History Mural.
ALTON – A history lesson about Alton jumps to life from the walls of Alton Square Mall, full of vibrant milestones and created from many voices throughout the years.
“Alton is diverse, and this mural represents that diversity,” says Eric Stauffer, proprietor of Dark Horse Art Works.
Through Dark Horse, Stauffer has begun assembling The Alton History Mural, an exhibit divided into three distinct sections (a triptych) that chronicles the history of the city from birth to the present day. Artists from throughout the region (some professional, some not) will be contributing 24 paintings, creating an autobiographical display.
Alton Square Mall has worked closely with Dark Horse Art Works to make the exhibit possible.
“The mall has bent over backward for us,” Stauffer said. “(Marketing coordinator) Sarah (Bolyard) and (general manager) Lori (Ehlers) have been a huge help in bringing this art to the community.”
“I think this is fabulous, and I love that it is community-driven,” Bolyard added.
Interested in participating? Stauffer says spots are still open.
“We don’t want abstract,” he says. “This is realism and historically accurate. This is a chance to promote yourself.
“Dark Horse is about community. We want strength in numbers, and I want to eradicate the term ‘starving artist’ in this community.”
The mural, an idea Stauffer has courted for years and made possible to this point through a $1,750 grant from the Madison County Arts Council, reflects the extreme diversity that makes up the local community — a sprawling conglomeration of different artists, mediums and styles, all converging into a splash of color and history.
“This is open to all skill levels,” Stauffer said. “We even have a high school student who has asked to participate.”
Rosemary Dodson, an art teacher from Collinsville, kicks off the exhibit with her painting of the Illinwek Indians settlement, dating back to 700 A.D. Other entries include Gene Ursprung of Alton’s interpretation of the Lewis and Clark expedition and Jake Bishop’s striking black and white rendering of the New Madrid Earthquakes of 1811-1812.
“I chose subjects important and vital to the growth of Alton,” Stauffer says. “At one time, Alton was ‘the’ big city and ‘the’ destination in this area.”
Initially, Stauffer envisioned the mural to be completed exclusively by Alton artists, but he says the enthusiasm quickly reached beyond the city limits and he discovered artists from all over the region who had a special passion for the history of this small river town.
For instance, Tina Kitchell of Wood River’s painting of the original Piasa Bird stands out as an interesting conversation piece because of its historical accuracy.
“You need to come and check out what the original Piasa Bird looked like,” Stauffer said. “It is quite different than what is on the bluffs now, which is an artist’s interpretation. The true history of the Piasa is really interesting.”
Currently, the eight submissions for the first section are complete. Highlights of the two upcoming sections include the Lovejoy murder, the Lock and Dam construction, the Golden Age of Steamboats, and the Great Flood of 1993.
“The final submission is a bit of a surprise,” Stauffer says. “I will say it takes us up to the very present.”
The original grant covered the paint, lettering and canvases for the first section. To help complete the mural, additional funding is needed and anyone in the community can help by becoming a sponsor. Sponsorship of a painting for $100 includes credit on the mural. Sponsorship of one of the three sections is $500 and also includes credit.
For $1,000, the entire mural can be sponsored.
From July 18 to 20, Dark Horse will present “Art in the Square,” a three-day event at Alton Square showcasing local artists.