Source of pride
Two artists work together to create mural highlighting local landmarks
As T’Vontis Gully and Dana Harrison applied paint to a concrete wall underneath the Kenyon Road Bridge Monday evening, they had a few onlookers to admire their work.
Gully, of Waterloo, and Harrison, of Jefferson, were working on a mural for Pleasant Valley.
City buildings, Fort Dodge’s skyline, the Webster County Courthouse clock tower and a pickup game of basketball were among the images depicted.
The art is visible along Seventh Street near Meriwether Drive and 11th Avenue Southwest.
Harrison said the old school in Pleasant Valley will be painted at the top of the wall.
But Harrison admitted he didn’t really know how the building used to look.
As luck might have it, someone who did remember the building was one of the people who stopped by to see the work.
In fact, Ray Pickett, of Fort Dodge, had a picture of the school building in a book.
“I’ve got so many pictures,” said Pickett, who grew up not far from the mural, in Pleasant Valley. “I am a Flat Rat. I wouldn’t have lived anywhere else.”
He said he just recently attended a Flat Rat reunion.
Harrison appreciated being able to see a picture of the school.
“Wow, it used to be a big school,” Harrison said.
“Kindergarten through sixth grade,” Pickett recalled.
Pickett lived in Pleasant Valley, also referred to as “The Flats,” in the 1950s and 1960s.
“Here’s a picture of Harry’s Chicken Shack,” Pickett said as he pointed to where it used to be located, southwest of the mural. “They had the best food in town. Chicken and baked beans. You ask anyone from ‘The Flats,’ that was the place to eat.”
Harry Clifton Meriwether opened Harry’s Chicken Shack decades ago. Meriwether is honored in other Pleasant Valley projects. The park in that neighborhood bears his name.
The railroad bridge is another image that will be painted on the mural.
“My father worked on the railroad,” Pickett recalled. “And we would hop on and take a ride — for a little while, anyways.”
Pickett joined the service right after high school in 1968. His mom sold the house in the years that followed.
Pickett now lives in another part of Fort Dodge.
Gully, who spent part of his childhood in Fort Dodge, and Harrison, a 2002 Fort Dodge Senior High graduate, developed the vision for the mural.
“Dana and I had to come up with the landmarks to use, and the city liked our design,” Gully said. “We are just making it pop alive. It’s a good thing. I’ve always wanted to do something for the city, especially growing up here.”
Gully lived in the Pleasant Valley neighborhood from ages 7 to 14.
“Something from Fort Dodge always brings me back,” he said.
Gully creates sketches, portaits, and designs logos.
Gully and Harrison were introduced to each other by Sherry Washington, president of the Pleasant Valley Awareness Committee.
The idea for the mural came about more than a year ago when Terry Moehnke, Fort Dodge city councilman and member of the Pleasant Valley Awareness Committee, was driving through the neighborhood after dropping off free books at H.C. Meriwether Park.
Moehnke previously told The Messenger, “I wanted something bright and colorful that helps identify the neighborhood.”
The project would need funding and approval from the Iowa Department of Transportation.
“The DOT said this piece will set a precedence for other public artwork,” Washington said. “They are excited that we are doing this and hope we represent in a positive way for others.”
Washington credited Fort Dodge City Manager David Fierke for helping to get the needed approvals for the project.
“David really jumped in on the DOT side of it and pushed the project forward,” Washington said. “David was very instrumental. It took one year, but we got it all approved. Our Pleasant Valley Awareness Committee worked hard.”
The mural was funded through private donations.
The budget for the project was less than $7,000, according to Washington.
“Dana and T’Vontis really did this out of the kindness of their heart,” she said.
State Rep. Ann Meyer, R-Fort Dodge, was complimentary of the freshly painted art.
“I think it reflects the history of Pleasant Valley,” said Meyer, who is also a member of the Pleasant Valley committee. “It will be a great source of pride for the community and these local artists. This couldn’t have gotten done without Sherry. She’s the brains and the muscle behind it all.”
Her husband, Dr. James Meyer, was impressed.
“I am just here for mural support,” Meyer said in jest.
Washington said she’s happy to see the addition to the neighborhood, but said this is just a start for the Pleasant Valley committee.
“This is just another phase,” she said. “This adds a little seasoning to the recipe.”