River murals moving along

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

With the ocean of color that has spread across the north end of the Cape Girardeau floodwall over the past few weeks, it has become increasingly difficult for the glancing eye to make out the shape of the artists as their canvas evolves around them. But it is plain to see that over the past month, progress has been made on the floodwall mural project.

As Thomas Melvin dipped his brush into a cup of light blue paint Tuesday, he squinted up at a pair of purple clouds rolling across the sky.

"Think it's going to rain?" he muttered.

Though it's been an almost constant threat, rain has only cost Melvin and his corps of painters two to three days of work on the Cape Girardeau floodwall mural project, which they began five weeks ago.

"That's when we set off through time," Melvin mused as he stared up at his work from his perch atop the 6-foot-tall scaffolding. He continued threading his brush over the light gray pattern of the letters in the mural's title panel. Leaving a soft trail of light blue, the brush spelled out the last letters of "River."

Since that time, the somber gray concrete has given way first to a solid whitewash base and then to an unfolding blossom of color.

Aside from the title panel, five new panels have appeared on the wall, the first chapters of Melvin's "Mississippi River Tales." Each panel features a stone archway, revealing a scene captured from the city's history.

The first panel depicts what Melvin calls the "primordial Mississippi." Set before the onset of man, the scene depicts a group of Carolina parakeets perched upon the branches of hawthorn. The bright red, green and yellow birds were once plentiful and pestered farmers by eating their crops in this area until the 1800s, when they began to disappear. They are now extinct.

To the right, the second arch shows American Indians of the Mississippian mound-building culture. Arms spread wide, the figures from the 13th century greet the sun rising over the river.

Ottawan warning

A silhouette of Hernando DeSoto leads to the third arch, which features the explorer Jacques Marquette, receiving a warning from the Ottawa in Wisconsin of the heat and other dangers he will face if he continues south. Behind Marquette, the image of a fantastic monster, which the Ottawa warn will devour his canoes, rears its head and leers at the undaunted explorer.

The fourth arch depicts Jean Baptiste Girardot. The Frenchman who set up a trading post on this land is pictured singing merrily along with a fiddle player.

New work has begun on the south side of the Broadway divide, next to the Lewis and Clark mural Melvin and his crew painted last fall. In the still-incomplete fifth arch, the Red House sits behind the shadowy sketches of two men. Once colored in, those profiles will be that of Cape Girardeau founder Louis Lorimier and his secretary, Bartholomew Cousins.

Melvin said that corresponding dates will be painted at the summit of each arch, giving the finished mural a formal timeline. He said if the weather continues to cooperate, the 16-foot-tall, 24-scene mural will be finished by September or early October.

trehagen@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 137

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