Paintin' The Town

Rural South Dakota community becomes a canvas for multiple murals.

A 110-foot grain elevator at Faulkton, South Dakota, provides a canvas where artist Guido Van Helten paints details like a wrinkle in jeans and even highlights in strands of hair, Image by Greg Lamp

You might say that murals are part of the DNA in Faulkton, a typical small, rural community in north-central South Dakota. However, the newest and most impressive mural can be seen from miles away. The unlikely canvas is a concrete grain elevator owned by Agtegra Cooperative.

But, make no mistake, once you get past the gigantic elevator artwork, you can find other murals around this town of more than 700. Multiple frescoes are tucked away on the side of the quilt shop, inside the town’s carousel, on a walking path downtown and even in the county courthouse.

Still, the stopper is the gigantic mural painted last summer by Australian artist Guido Van Helten.

“Our local businessman, who we call Aussie Dave, showed us a silo his friend Guido painted in Australia. We were impressed and pitched the mural idea to our arts council--and got a go,” says Troy Hadrick, rancher and president of the volunteer Economic Development Corp. for Faulkton.

Van Helten, who happened to be in Florida, was then invited to Faulkton to discuss the mural project and, ultimately, agreed to paint it.

A CLEAN CANVAS

“He told us the old paint on the elevator wouldn’t hold, so we rounded up three pressure washers and a lift. Guido and our volunteers began blowing off the old paint,” Hadrick explains. “It took us three weeks because we had to patch over the holes and then whitewash the entire elevator before he could start. We used the same high-quality paint that’s used to paint the White House, which should last more than 20 years.”

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Van Helten started painting last August and finished a month later. Total cost: $75,000. Funding came by way of grants from the South Dakota Farm Bureau, GROW South Dakota, the South Dakota Arts Council and private donations from the community.

“We didn’t know what the design would be. He didn’t show us a sketch,” Hadrick says. “He’s an artist, and I guess he had to feel it in his soul.”

The mural depicts a young boy on one side, a young girl on the other and the two passing their cowboy hats on the third.

“Five little boys in town think it’s them. But, Guido based images off people in general, nothing exact,” Hadrick says.

After approval from Agtegra, the project took off. Co-op manager Marvin Hutchinson says painting in the summer was the right time, because it caused little disruption to their daily business.

“It’s a big canvas, but we could see a lot of progress every day,” Hutchinson says. “Now, a lot of out-of-state people stop, even buses. Instead of going on I-90, they’re driving through our town to see the mural. While here, they buy gas and go to our local stores. It’s helped us and even our surrounding towns.”

To avoid traffic-safety issues, three viewing stations were built to clearly see each side of the mural.

MORE PROJECTS

Val Helten--who specializes in using grain elevators and silos as canvases--has painted murals around the world, from Dubai to Chernobyl. “Artwork can serve as a means to bring a community together in understanding one another in new or different ways,” he says. “Faulkton is a great introduction for a broader project I’m working on in smaller rural communities in the U.S.”

Recently, he painted another elevator in Fort Dodge, Iowa, and has plans for other U.S. locations, including Minnesota and South Carolina.

> For more images of Faulkton murals and to see a time-lapse video

Also, check out other Van Helten murals

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