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'Hello Peoria' mural not only offers a warm greeting to the city, but a demonstration of public art's value

Brady Johnson
Attendees at Saturday's "Hello Peoria" mural dedication take a group photo in front of the public artwork, painted on the side of a city-owned building on Adams Street, facing MacArthur Highway.

Nearly eighty people came out to celebrate the formal dedication of Big Picture’s Hello Peoria mural on SW Adams Street. The large public art display has morphed and altered since 2018.

Big Picture Peoria board member Maggie Whalen Misselhorn says the mural stands as a greeting to both residents and visitors. She introduced Bradley University Professor of Art Heather Brammeier as “one of the greatest, hardest working artists in Peoria.”

Brammeier, herself a board member, gave thanks to Big Picture Peoria founders Doug and Eileen Leunig - as well as other residents for supporting and creating a beautiful timeline of collaboration, especially during a pandemic.

“I had a huge concern for my students and what I was going to do for them once the pandemic hit,” Brammeier said to attendees.

For the last year and a half, Brammeier and her students worked on the Hello Peoria mural, adding designs to enhance the space. Brammeier stated the mural is about the whole environment.

“The fact that the city already allowed some artistic intervention made me feel ‘Alright, we have our foot in the door,’ Brammeier said. “It seemed to have the potential to be a much bigger project. Huge projects just start with the first steps. So the first step was already done and I got in there and wanted to make something more.”

To enhance the mural, Brammeier would take class sizes of four to five students for three hours twice a week.

“My biggest concern was that I might not give enough to my students. I probably overcompensated, but that is fine,” Brammeier said. “I didn’t want students to suffer any more than they had to. As difficult as it was for me, I’m sure it was more difficult for them. So, I was willing to do whatever I needed to do to make sure they got personal attention, but also something special to make up for things they might be missing out on because they didn’t have an in-studio classroom experience.”

Brammeier would assist students while also communicating with remote students at the mural site. Students who were unable to paint in person helped create the final designs.

Brady Johnson
Doug Leunig taking photos of attendees. Mayor Dr. Rita Ali and councilmembers Andre Allen, Beth Jensen, and Timothy Riggenbach were in attendance.

Bradley student Madeleine Martin says her personal mural design of a faux interior was to mimic the isolation of the pandemic and how spaces affect us. Martin says while painting the mural she overcame her fear of heights as she climbed twelve-foot ladders and used a lift -

“I was like ‘Wow, this is incredible.’ It’s a really great experience," she said.

Even after completing the main work for the mural, Martin isn’t finished with her addition.

“I actually still show up and work on it periodically just because it’s like decorating your room,” Martin said. “There [are] always things you can move around or rearrange and interact with it. So sometimes if I have free time I just like to work on it and paint.”

Brammeier, herself, spoke on the feeling of stewardship that comes with public art as she continues to clear any garbage and fill any new pesky woodchuck holes.

“That is one of the huge impacts public art has is that people start taking care of a space more," she said.

Bradley student Savannah Harwood was in Brammeier’s painting class when they started the designs for the Big Picture mural. Harwood worked on two personal designs involving a door as well as utilizing past work from the community. In particular, two black cats playing under a window.

“The cats were actually there before for a mural that has since faded, but I wanted to keep them because I thought they were cute and fun,” Harwood said.

After the event, Harwood and fellow peers were looking for “easter
eggs”, which are painted thread spools designed by artist Hattie Lee.

There are many painted wooden spools hidden around the Big Picture mural.

Brammeier gave recognition not only to her students but to Uruguay artist Marisa Bernotti, who painted a mural.

Bernotti’s hometown was damaged by a 2016 tornado. That town's
mayor sent Brammeier a letter detailing the importance of art to a
community in hard times. She read the letter for the first time during the dedication.

Casa de Arte, a local restaurant, served free hot chocolate during the event and donated portions of Saturday’s restaurant sales to Big Picture.

Before Brammeier and her students worked on the mural, a 2018 Big Picture event had residents super soak the wall with paint. Afterward, Joe Gabbert and Nick Carmack painted Hello Peoria, using a design by Chelsie Tamms.

“I’m just so appreciative of the thoughtfulness from my students in a way that they have committed to this project,” Brammeier said. “Because I don’t think it is easy for a young person with a full class load and one to two jobs to commit to something like this.”

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