Like most U.S. cities, Lima, Ohio, is in a state of transition these days. The bite of the recession and the growing pains from rapid technological development create a whiplash effect, and people feel more than ever that holding on to community and history is vitally important. Towns need projects to reinforce civic pride; money is scarce. But in all change is opportunity, and SKB veteran Ruth Ann Sturgill is currently in the middle of one whopping big opportunity. She’s painting a 8′ x 60′ mural that will feature 30 portraits of Lima residents.
“It almost terrifies me at this point,” Sturgill says. “In the beginning I was like, ‘I can do that. Twenty portraits–sure.’ I didn’t expect it to be this complicated.” Sturgill is interfacing with the local government and a host of interested parties, and she is becoming well acquainted with the dreaded “c” word: committees.
Each year for nearly three decades in Lima, various groups collaborated to hold the Square Fair, an event designed to celebrate the community. It usually kicked off with Toast to the City, a gala affair with a high ticket price. In recent years, budget cuts, bad weather and other obstacles have forced city leaders to scale back the Square Fair. For the 2014 edition, organizers decided that they would suspend the fair and honor some of Lima’s notable citizens–and take advantage of the changes downtown to showcase the citizens with giant portraits affixed along the side of a prominent building. Sturgill was tapped to paint the portraits, just two people per 4′-x-8′ panel. Fifteen panels will line the side of the Hofeller Hiatt & Clark building on North Main Street. The mural will be revealed on August 7 at Toast to the City, the portion of the celebration that will continue.
Sturgill says the location is perfect, with good sightlines from the street, and it beautifully utilizes new developments in the Lima urbanscape. “We lost a number of buildings due to age, collapse, development, fires, and so forth, leaving blank walls,” says Sturgill. “They are perfect places to put things like this.”
The artist is thrilled to be meeting loads of interesting people and glad for the high-profile gig, but the ride has been a little bumpy up to now, replete with life events, storms, frozen pipes, holidays and the challenge of securing approval of a design from committees steering the project and the civic event–while in the meantime watching the number of portraits for the mural balloon to 30, even as photos to allow the depiction of the people slowly, oh so slowly, trickle in. Sometimes the photos Sturgill receives are in color, sometimes they are black and white. Occasionally the photo she receives is a photo of a photo, taken through the glass of a frame. “In some cases I’m working with two photos that are 30 or 40 years apart, and the person’s stance is in one direction, while they face another direction in the other photo. I’m going to need to put them together somehow. Now I know why some murals seem awkward. The mind detects that this kind of thing went on when it was painted.”
The idea of the mural was to honor citizens important to the growth and social fabric of Lima, but this is no stuffy chamber of commerce bit of puffery. Anyone from Lima with a photograph and a $600 donation is eligible for the mural. “There will be quite the diversity on here, which really makes it exciting,” says Sturgill. She says there’s already a waiting list for future murals.
Sturgill is gearing up to complete the project; she’s already secured a studio assistant and installed a furnace to allow her to work in her garage. She modestly says she was chosen for the gig because the person heading up the visual arts arm of the event could be certain Sturgill would be the kind of person who got the thing done. A look at Sturgill’s portfolio offers a few more reasons why she got the gig. She’s good.