(Photo by Diane L. Wilson)
They work easily -- laughing, joking, having fun with their duties. It's a beautiful day to paint, and their labor is almost over. The touch ups the artist performed on Friday represent the last steps in the update to the 1995 mural designed by Margaret Dement.
A few minutes later Chicago artist Thomas Melvin pulls up in a beat-up black Ford minivan, red hat shielding his head from the sun, two cups of coffee in one hand. Like the other artists, Melvin appears to be in a mood as sunny as the day's weather.
In the past few years, Melvin has spent a lot of his time in Cape Girardeau, first working on the "Mississippi River Tales" mural, now on the "Missouri Wall of Fame." His intimate relationship with the town started in 2002.
"I like this town a lot," Melvin says as he waits for a train to pass so he can start working again. "I think I know more about the history of Cape Girardeau than I do about any other place in the country."
Melvin has made a lot of friends here. Some nights he can be seen dancing around at Bruce Zimmerman shows at Port Cape Girardeau, hanging out with his "Port Cape family."
As the train goes by, one of Melvin's new friends pulls up in a pickup to look at the nearly complete mural.
"It's looking good man," said Bill Caldwell, who made the paper "pounces" that were used to trace chalk outlines for the mural on the floodwall. "Are you leaving town or what?"
Melvin admits that he is leaving over the weekend, a bit of regret in his voice. Melvin genuinely loves Cape Girardeau and likes being able to leave his imprint on the town. For now, he says, his work is done here. But he may be back.
The Chicago artist's latest stint in Cape Girardeau began in August, when he started steadily working on the "Missouri Wall of Fame." About six weeks later, the project is done except for the red pavers that extend the sidewalk in front of the "Mississippi River Tales" mural over to the "Missouri Wall of Fame."
In February, the River Heritage Mural Association -- which sponsored Dement's original painting -- announced plans to paint the mural again, using mostly the same design created by Dement in the 1990s.
Work then started on fund raising for the $85,000 to $95,000 project, half of which needed to be raised through sponsorship.
About 60 percent of that money has been raised already, said association president Tim Blattner. But sponsors are still needed for some panels: the center title panel; the Hollywood panel featuring John Huston; the Boys of Summer panel featuring faces like Stan Musial and Lou Brock; Visionary Women with Susan Blow and Linda Godwin; the Entrepreneurs with Dale Carnegie and Joseph Pulitzer; and the literary giants like Langston Hughes.
But Blattner said he's not worried about sponsorship. "We hoped to be further along at this point, but there's still time."
Watching the project come together was "delightful," Blattner said.
"It's a project that's been near and dear to my heart for 15 years, and to see it take final form that it's going to look like for the next 50 years, and for it to be so well-received, I can only feel satisfaction over our efforts," he said.
He's proud of the finished mural, and he thinks when people see the finished product, more interest in sponsorship will arise. A dedication ceremony will be planned for spring, when the weather warms up again, said Blattner.
Dement is also proud of the project. Melvin and his crew -- Chicago artists Cameron Pfiffner and Marian Voinea, along with local artists like Thomas and Kelley -- used most of Dement's original design. They added a few things to enhance the pictures, like a guitar in Porter Wagoner's hands, but overall few changes were made, Melvin said.
"The whole experience of the 'Wall of Fame' has been a journey I am privileged to have taken," said Dement.
Completion of the mural is one part of much work going on in the area around the floodwall, with the city of Cape Girardeau remodeling the municipal parking lot in front of the wall. The city will also install the extension of the red brick pavers from mural to mural.
With the sidewalk extension and the reader boards that will interpret the "Missouri Wall of Fame" for visitors, Blattner sees his association's vision for downtown coming to life.
"We'll have a wonderful mural walk for three-and-a-half city blocks, 1,600 feet of mural, and it just should be a wonderful activity for the citizens of Cape and for visitors alike," he said.
As for Melvin, he promises to return. "I just got to think of another reason to come back," he says.
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