Pleasant Valley Awareness Committee sets its sights on the Kenyon Road Bridge beams

A new canvas

One of Sherry Washington’s good friends used to tell her that each day was an opportunity to paint a new canvas.

“I had a friend who used to tell me, each morning paint your own canvas, make your own picture,” Washington said. “Those words always rung in my mind. Each morning you have a new day to start. Tomorrow you have an empty canvas — start over and paint your canvas.”

That’s exactly what members of the Pleasant Valley Awareness Committee are planning to do. Except their canvas will occupy the pillars of the Kenyon Road Bridge located in Pleasant Valley.

The art would be visible along Seventh Street near Meriwether Drive and 11th Avenue Southwest.

Washington is president of the Pleasant Valley Awareness Committee.

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson Robert Presswood, a Fort Dodge native, right, stands with his aunt, Helen Gully, underneath the Kenyon Road Bridge in Pleasant Valley Thursday evening. Presswood is an artist who will be painting the bridge beams and walls in an effort to add more public art in Fort Dodge.

Robert Presswood, a Fort Dodge native and Des Moines barber and artist, will be tasked with transforming the bridge beams and walls into a work of art.

“I grew up here,” Presswood said. “I graduated from here. I am the type of person who doesn’t want to forget where I came from.”

Presswood lived with his aunt, Helen Gully, in Pleasant Valley for many years. He left Fort Dodge in 1992.

He wants the murals to represent people who left behind a “strong legacy.”

“There’s been so much that has happened with the drugs and everything else,” he said. “At one time it was very positive. We had our own candy store. People hung out at the park. There was a lot of love, like a neighborhood should be.”

He added, “It was more family-oriented, more respect. A lot of the older people — it wasn’t like you could do anything. The vision is to bring that back.”

Antonio Love, Wade Wheat and Joe Crooks are just a few of the people he said made a positive impact in the neighborhood.

“The people that do come back, they will be able to see some type of signature from those lost souls, like Joe Crooks,” he said. “A mural that people can relate to. That the city can relate to. When they called me, I already had the vision.”

He hopes when the art is finished, it will become a source of pride for the area.

“It’s going to be very bright,” he said. “When you see it, it’s going to be bright. It could be abstract. Anything from cartoon characters, all different types. Graphic, graffiti.”

He added, “I was looking for more. Everyone has seen graffiti. I want it to be more art, more spiritual and uplifting. There will be some meaning behind it.”

The art could reflect people such as Orville Blanks, Washington said.

“We would like to reflect our history in our Pleasant Valley community starting with some of the folks who have paved the way,” she said. “One would be for the Rev. Orville Blanks.”

Washington said Blanks started a mission in the valley in the 1950s and 1960s.

According to Washington, Blanks opened doors to the community to have sewing classes, cooking classes, and reading classes.

“We had so many leaders,” she said.

Washington said the work would also reflect the faith shared by those in the neighborhood.

“We walk by faith and not by sight,” Washington said. “We grew up with a very strong faith background. That’s what we still continue to walk on. All these folks who stepped out on faith. They wanted better, and they did better. All of our generations, if they couldn’t pass on anything else, they passed on their faith.”

Washington credited Terry Moehnke, Fort Dodge city councilman, for the idea.

“I can relate to that vision he sees because traveling through some of your larger cities, you see these sorts of things — murals painted on the walls of buildings,” she said.

Moehnke said the idea came to him when he drove through Pleasant Valley recently to check on the free library, which has been set up at H.C. Meriwether Park.

“I want something bright and colorful that helps identify the neighborhood,” he said. “My thought is as you are coming down the hill. If we start here and work our way up and do something with the railroad bridges on Seventh Street and 14th Street. Hopefully we can get the support of the community and the support of the area and the people in the neighborhood and have something here that will be an attractive addition and brighten it up and make it more appealing.”

Moehnke said the city will need approval from the Iowa Department of Transportation to complete the project.

Cost estimates and funding sources have not yet been determined, he said.

Moehnke is confident, however, that the work will be done by the end of September.

Presswood will be joined by a team of artists to complete the work. It’s not yet known how many people will be involved.

When Presswood does begin his work, it will be a chance to fill that canvas.

“The emptiness we see on those pillars and those walls, we are going to paint our canvas and each day is a new day,” Washington said. “That’s what that dear friend used to tell me 20 years ago. I remember that saying. He was a hairdresser. He would tell me, ‘Now remember, go paint your canvas.'”