ArtNewsThe SouthSider

Modern-day Michaelangelos cover St. Louis with art

CARONDELET – One year, mural artist Ray Harvey heard an announcement on KMOX that civic leaders in Carondelet were holding a competition for a mural on the side of a building.

He entered and lost. But the next year, Harvey entered another competition in Carondelet and won the right to spread paint on the side of a building. Then one day in April 2016, Harvey’s murals of jazz artist and private artist Clark Terry took shape at 7714 South Broadway. 

Five years later, this piece of public art is still adding pop to Carondelet’s main street. In fact, it’s one of nine on South Broadway in Carondelet, in the Murals on Broadway Public Art Program organized by the Carondelet Community Betterment Federation. 

Ray Harvey’s mural of Clark Terry

The Clark Terry mural is one of more than 500 Harvey has created in the last three decades. Harvey, who grew up in the Florissant-Ferguson area, started out as a graphics and technical illustrator in marketing and advertising. But he switched to his passion in 1986.

He wanted to do painting. As for anything else, “I just felt it was a betrayal of my talents,” said Harvey, who lives in New Haven, Mo.

His long list of finished projects include several in Hannibal and the Midwest Truckport in Cuba. Among his customers have been the Chase Park Plaza Hotel and the Gateway Arch Museum. His biggest project was at Victorian Gardens independent living facility in Eureka, where he did a 15,000-square-foot continual mural.

He recalls that he encountered interesting people at the Carondelet site, including the homeless and local prostitutes.   

Ray Harvey may be known for half a thousand murals, but Natasha Jones Harris and an artist who goes by the name Rat Bag are mainly known for one. 

They worked together to paint a mural that says “Mike Brown RIP” outside the office of her business, Signature Screenprinting at 1902 Union Boulevard, right after Brown was shot. Harris got the help of Rat Bag because she didn’t want to climb a ladder.

“Me being an artist myself, I believe murals are effective,” Harris said. This is, she said, as long as they’re not too destructive. Indeed, the list is long of all the places where Black artists have posted artwork with a theme of protest.

Wherever you go, whether in Carondelet or Union Boulevard, St. Louis is wall-to-wall murals.

On a wall on 11th Street, Mexican artist Frida Kahlo appears, giving a “stay safe” message by wearing a face mask with a St. Louis flag, in a mural by artist Dan Ricketts.

More than 10 years ago, a critic of eminent domain named Jim Roos posted a gigantic message on the side of a building visible to motorists driving north on Tucker Boulevard into downtown: END EMINENT DOMAIN  ABUSE.

On the side of Vintage Vinyl, at 6610 Delmar Boulevard in the Delmar Loop, St. Louis entertainers appear in a mural called “Viva St. Louis!”

And artist Grace L. McCammond has displayed her artwork on walls/canvases in the Grove and elsewhere. She’s done one that says “Greetings from St. Louis” and looks like a postcard. 

McCammond always wanted to draw and create, but found herself doing such as retouching photos and as a black and white photo lab technician. So she went back to college and received her bachelor of arts degree in art from the University of Montana in 1993.

McCammond wanted to work full time in art and be close to her parents in Kansas and her brother in Chicago, so she moved to St. Louis in 1997. She started doing artwork but worked part-time in construction before she went full time as an artist in 2004.

Today, the website of her business, called Signature Arts, boasts that she does all kinds of art work, including sculptures and paintings of people, fire hydrants and furniture. She’s designed tattoos but says she won’t learn to do them because people don’t hold still. She still uses her early skill as a photo retoucher and claims restoring injured pictures with tiny brushes and dyes helped her develop her artistic touch.

So McCammond had done all kinds of artwork, when her life took a different direction: In 2004, a man asked her if she could do a mural. 

“I said, ‘I don’t know why not. It’s just a bigger painting,’” she explained. “And so he told me what his idea was, which was kind of a collage of St. Louis images.”

She didn’t use anything fancy, just good-quality exterior house paint.

“What I generally do is buy primary colors and a clear base. And I mix my own, because a lot of times, you only need a little bit of something,” she said. She’ll often put small amounts in Tupperware containers. 

A mural can cost $1,000, or it can cost $15,000 or $20,000, depending on factors including the size, McCammond said. You’ll have to pay extra if you have to rent a bucket truck to hoist the artist 15 feet into the air.

At the First Grove Fest in 2006, she did a paint-by-number mural for children to paint on. Later, she painted over the rough edges.  “We discovered that people really enjoyed that,” she said.

Since then, McCammond has painted all kinds of murals in the Grove and elsewhere. In the Grove, she painted “Greetings from the Grove” in the style of an old-time postcard. She painted another one that said “Greetings from St. Louis” on South Kingshighway Boulevard two or three blocks north of Chippewa Street.

“It’s nice, because instead of just saying, ‘Here’s a mural,’ you know it’s like 200 or 300 people helped create that mural, so  they feel a connection to it,” McCammond said. 

The last time McCammond checked, she’d done more than 70 murals, or at least five a year. She painted for the 200th anniversary of St. Louis University.

McCammond has been all over the place with her ladders and giant cans of paint. She’s been to St. Joseph, Alton and Oak Hill, Ill..

“Any day I paint is a good day,” she said. But in the height of summer or winter, McCammond prefers to work on indoor murals.

She could get more work, but that would raise a problem. 

“People have said, ‘Oh, you should hire people, and you could do more things and make more money,’” she said. “But then I wouldn’t get to paint.”

Jim Merkel

southsidemerkel@gmail.com Born and raised in the St. Louis area, Jim Merkel covered communities throughout the area from 1991 to 2013 for the old Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis. He is the author of five books about the Gateway City published by Reedy Press. The latest is Growing Up St. Louis: Looking Back Through the Decades. He and his wife, Lorraine, live in the Bevo Mill neighborhood of south St. Louis with Miss Jenny the Cat. For more about Jim, visit www.jimmerkelthewriter.com.

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