Urban art renewal

FD native returns to paint mural, aid Pleasant Valley project

-Messenger photo by Peter Kaspari
Jameel Hameed, left, and Tommy Washington, both of Fort Dodge, chat next to the Second Baptist Church while admiring the new coat of paint. The two men, who are also trustees of the church, recently helped organize an effort to get the building painted.

A garage in the 200 block of South 17th Street looks a lot brighter than it did just a day ago, with a large mural of sunflowers covering what was once a dilapidated-looking wall.

And it’s all thanks to a Fort Dodge native, who returned home on Sunday to paint the mural on the garage owned by longtime Fort Dodge resident Julia Naylor.

Dana Harrison, a 2002 Fort Dodge Senior High graduate who now lives in Jefferson, was originally asked to paint a mural in Pleasant Valley as a way of honoring that part of Fort Dodge’s history.

But with that project still being finalized, Harrison said he was approached by Sherry Washington, president of the Pleasant Valley Awareness Committee, to see about working on a second mural.

That ended up being Naylor’s garage.

-Messenger photo by Peter Kaspari

“This one’s all nonprofit,” Harrison said. “Kind of for fun, showing people what’s more to come.”

His painting was inspired by one hanging in the Fort Dodge Community School District’s administration building, which was previously known as Arey School.

That building is located next door to Naylor’s house on South 17th Street.

Harrison said he had done an oil painting of sunflowers when he was in high school, and the school liked the painting so much, they bought it from him to display in the building.

“It gave me the idea to do more sunflowers,” Harrison said. “The ones in Arey are more wilted and they’re oil pastels.”

-Messenger photo by Peter Kaspari
Fort Dodge native Dana Harrison works on painting a sunflower mural on the side of Julia Naylor’s garage Sunday.

For Naylor’s garage, he decided to not only make the flowers more “lively,” but he also exclusively used spray paint on the mural.

He referred to it as street art, and said while some may consider it graffiti, there’s actually a difference between the two.

Graffiti is primarily words.

“Street art, it’s mostly portraits and things like that,” Harrison said.

He was inspired to paint the sunflowers because that’s not something typically seen in street art.

-Messenger photo by Peter Kaspari
Dana Harrison, a Fort Dodge native who is also an artist, gets ready to continue painting a mural on the side of Julia Naylor’s garage Sunday. The progress in this photo took Harrison just two hours to complete.

By using spray paint, Harrison said he was able to use different painting techniques than if he was using a brush.

“Using spray cans, I can knock it out really fast,” he said. “Outline, fill it in, shading. It doesn’t really take as long as you would think. With a paintbrush, you can only cover so much ground.”

Harrison began his painting at noon Sunday. By 2 p.m., as he was on his break, he had completed about half of the painting, and was anticipating being done by the end of the day.

Naylor, who has lived in the same house since 1977, was impressed with the artwork.

“It makes it look a heck of a lot better than it did,” she said. “He’s really a talented young man. That’s really nice.”

Washington, who is Naylor’s niece, said there used to be another structure next to the garage, but it burned down several years ago. After the structure was demolished, that side of the garage was left untouched and was never given a new coat of paint, until Harrison came and painted the sunflowers.

According to Washington, Naylor’s garage is the latest project in an effort by the Pleasant Valley Awareness Committee to add more of what she called urban art to Fort Dodge.

“Folks really want to see urban art,” Washington said. “They wanted to see a few different things they could identify with. This was perfect to do.”

Previously, her brother, Tommy Washington, and Jameel Hameed, who are both trustees of Second Baptist Church in Fort Dodge, had teamed up with other church and community members to paint the exterior of the building.

And there’s more planned.

Former State Rep. Helen Miller, D-Fort Dodge, is planning on having an art auction in the next few months to raise money for more art efforts in town.

Miller herself is an avid art supporter, and helped create the Artful Dodger, which exhibited and auctioned off artwork to help support community organizations.

“This is an artistically engaged community,” Miller said Sunday. “The logical thing would be let’s do something to promote art and recognize and celebrate all of the artists in the community.”

She also had praise for the mural on Naylor’s garage.

“That’s a great location, and I think a lot of folks will see it,” she said. “That’s really exciting.”

Sherry Washington said a group has been formed to help look for other art opportunities in Fort Dodge.

One person who has been involved with the group is Robert Johnson, minister at Corinthian Baptist Church in Des Moines, who is a proponent of urban art.

“Urban art always has the opportunity to tell a story about what somebody may have gone through, what a community may have seen or what some people may just want to express through the opportunity to draw,” he said.

Johnson specifically praised Harrison’s sunflowers and said there’s a lot of symbolism behind that flower choice.

“When you look at them, it should make you happy,” he said. “It should make you think about happy thoughts. There’s a story behind somebody who maybe couldn’t smile that day who maybe has an opportunity to smile.”