Three national muralists share their experience in Northeast Indiana

Thanks to the Make It Your Own Mural Fest, residents of Northeast Indiana got a taste of what it’s like to have nationally and internationally known artists in their corner of the world, adding a new dimension to streets and alleys in each of the region's 11 counties. 

The first-time public art festival is the brainchild of The Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership, in collaboration with Arts United of Greater Fort Wayne Inc. It engaged artists to create murals across Northeast Indiana in 11 days, from Sept. 8-18.

So who are some of the national artists visiting Northeast Indiana and what is their perspective on the region? Input Fort Wayne sat down with three muralists to learn more about how they made their mark here—and how the experience shaped them, too. 

Shawn Dunwoody

Hometown: Rochester, New York
Mural Location: 116 W. Van Buren St., Columbia City

Shawn Dunwoody works on a mural in downtown Columbia City.

IFW: You’re from Rochester, New York. How is Northeast Indiana similar to or different from your community? 

SD: It's similar because there's people and there's cars and buildings, but that's about it. But people remind me of people, and we are always connected. I think that's the important part. When you have great people around you—no matter where you are—you feel like you're home.

IFW: In your experience, what makes a community’s art scene robust?

SD: The people. You can list as many resources as you would think would be valuable. But if there's not a connection to and among the artists in a community, it won’t pan out. The best-laid intentions in every city to support their arts scene usually doesn't extend to supporting what artists want to do. But that’s what makes a strong community connected and able to move forward: Helping artists support their dreams.

Artists assist Shawn Dunwoody with a mural in downtown Columbia City.

IFW: What was your impression of Columbia City. Did anything surprise you? 

SD: When I first got there, I was like, “How did I end up here?" But the people were connected and open, so I had a good time. I'm still having too much of a good time. 

I also met some artists and creatives there. They saw the project, and they were bringing people to the mural. It was great. 

Shawn Dunwoody's new mural in Columbia City for the Make It Your Own Mural Fest pays tribute to Shinzo Ohki a Japanese entrepreneur from the area.

IFW: How would you describe your style, and how did it inform your approach to the mural in Columbia City? 

SD: I try to create work that's connected to its place. So I try to think about the place that it's being made and how to do that, what elements it may take. But it really is based upon the space where I am. So you don't come in with the same attitude of “It's got to be this.” You learn and improvise.

For instance, in preparing to paint the mural featuring a Columbia City soy sauce entrepreneur Mr. Shinzo Ohki, I was getting a feel for how it could look and really making that connection to place. I'm learning the history of this place, and while I'm there, I'm actually telling people from the community about the community. So I ended up becoming a de facto nighttime tour guide, sharing the story of the soy sauce factory and Mr. Shinzo Ohki and his importance to the town when I'm talking to locals who grew up there and don't know about his legacy. 

David Rice

Hometown: Portland, Oregon
Mural Location: 122 W. Market St., Bluffton

David Rice is a muralist based in Portland, Ore.

IFW: Tell us about your experience creating a mural for downtown Bluffton.

DR: When I first signed on to the project, they told me I’d be painting in Bluffton, and they sent me a list of things relevant to the town. From there, we narrowed the design for the mural down to irises and the oriole because of their prevalence in that area. The result is an image of the flora and fauna of the Bluffton area transposed over a rural farm landscape.

Throughout the design process, it was a collaboration back and forth between me and local leaders on sketches and narrowing the concept down to what it is now. They gave me a lot of artistic freedom to play around, so that was really great because you get a better result when they give you a little more leeway, rather than just trying to tell you exactly what they want. 

Rice's mural depicts flora, fauna, and wildlife native to the Bluffton area.

IFW: What experiences will you take with you from this commission? 

DR: The town of Bluffton has been great. They've really embraced what's going on there with the murals, and they're really excited about it. So just their enthusiasm is probably the most positive thing that I'll take away from this experience. It really helps keep the energy going, when everybody seems to be on board and enjoying this new thing coming into their town. 

Rice's mural is located at 122 W. Market St. in Bluffton.

IFW: You’ve lived in multiple cities. What makes a community attractive to you as an artist? 

DR: What I like to look for in a city is definitely a creative community, one that rallies behind creatives and is not afraid to splash a little color on some walls or do something different. I look for people who are doing things you can't really get anywhere else. 

IFW: You had the opportunity to take on a mentee during the course of the Make It Your Own Mural Fest. What was it like to work with up-and-coming muralist Seddrick Lorick?

DR: It was really rad to work with someone starting their mural career and show them a couple tips and tricks and things that I've learned. I learned a lot of what I'm doing from someone else. So passing on the information is pretty important and a cool opportunity. I'm super glad that Seddrick was there to help me.

Muralist David Rice of Portland, Ore., and his mentee, Seddrick Lorick.

Claudio “Remix 1” Rico

Hometown: Mexico City
Mural Location: 214 E. Main St., North Manchester

Claudio “Remix 1” Rico of Mexico City painted a mural in downtown North Manchester.

IFW: Tell us about your alias Remix 1 and your mural in North Manchester. 

CR: When I was thinking about what to call myself, I considered how many times people are inclined to stay the same. But you need to keep transforming yourself, especially as an artist. My style is a remake of different techniques, hence the name Remix. My mural in North Manchester features an eagle in the foreground with abstract shapes in the background and the word "inspire" overlaid.

An eagle by Remix 1 in North Manchester.

IFW: You've traveled all over the world with your art. What lessons have you learned from your experience, and what about North Manchester resonated with you?

CR: I've learned that if you want to follow your dreams, there is not a single thing that is gonna stop you. It’s not going to be easy, always. 

I think that I have learned that I can overcome all of my fears, too. For example, I am afraid of heights, but normally I am painting big murals on tall buildings. Maybe I'm crazy enough to be doing something that scares me a lot.

When I was leaving North Manchester on Friday morning, I felt like I was leaving a big piece of myself. I felt a connection to and with North Manchester. I am primarily a Spanish-speaker, but people were super friendly, loyal, and kind for the entire duration of this project. They stayed with me the whole time to make sure I felt comfortable. 

Remix 1's new mural in downtown North Manchester is located at 122 W. Market St.

IFW: What do advice do you have for others looking to expand their art careers? 

CR: Always try to be open to anything that could happen. I try to not be narrow-minded. Because being too attached to expectations won't lead to anything good or growth.
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Read more articles by Lauren Caggiano.

Lauren Caggiano is a freelance contributor for Input Fort Wayne. A graduate of the University of Dayton, she returned to Northeast Indiana to pursue a career. She currently writes for several local, regional, and national publications.