To the Valley and Beyond

Oxbow mural program hopes to inspire artistic diversity

Lauren Fisher, photos by Joel Pearish

WALL ME LATER. Mural artist and digital designer Molly Z will paint the side of the Eau Claire Printing Co. building on the corner of Galloway and Farwell streets.
WALL ME LATER. Mural artist and digital designer Molly Z will paint the side of the Eau Claire Printing Co. building on the corner of Galloway and Farwell streets.

The vast blank canvas on the side of the Eau Claire Printing Co. building on the corner of Galloway and Farwell streets in downtown Eau Claire gleams with whitewash today, but on June 3, visiting artist Molly Z will paint the first stroke of a new large-scale mural on the site. This mural project is the first breath of The Oxbow Hotel’s new artist-in-residence program, which is meant to bring local and outside artists together to share ideas and culture while infusing the Eau Claire art scene with fresh displays of creativity.

“My goal is to transform invisible or dark or forgotten spaces into visual, vocal, vibrant places that energize and surprise.” – Molly Z, mural artist

The inaugural season features Chicago artist Molly Z, a digital designer with a history of product and space design as well as muraling.  She uses bold lines and colors to transform spaces into communicative, joyful environments for people to experience.

“My goal is to transform invisible or dark or forgotten spaces into visual, vocal, vibrant places that energize and surprise,” Molly said.  The design she created for the mural, entitled “Cascade,” was inspired by the pioneering spirit of Eau Claire and the positive energy of its growing art and music scenes.

“I love seeing what unfolds as mural projects get underway,” she said.

The creation of some kind of an artist-in-residence program has been in the works for The Oxbow since before it opened. But just last spring, co-owner Nick Meyer (also the owner of this publication) was inspired to forge ahead with a more public perspective on the project after returning from a trip to St. Petersburg, Florida, which is home to hundreds of murals by local and visiting artists.

“I’ve seen murals in different cities over the years, but they had just such an amazing program of muralists from all over the world. It was very inspiring,” he said. “I just got to thinking we need more of that in Eau Claire. And I knew the Oxbow could help play a role.”

John Mogensen and Lisa Aspenson, the owners of the building, were enthusiastic about the idea and wanted to help. They provided a lift and equipment, fixed up and prepared the mural wall, and volunteered to help feed Molly Z at their downtown restaurants while she’s here.

Several other community-focused partners also came on board to chip in and help fund or otherwise enable the effort. They included Visit Eau Claire, the North Barstow Business Improvement District, People’s Bank, Pablo Properties, Downtown Eau Claire Inc, Eau Claire Printing Co., the Rotary Club, and Volume One.

The Oxbow’s strength as a partner in the mural program is as a place to stay where visiting artists can experience much of what Eau Claire has to offer artistically, culturally, and recreationally. All factors considered as the program was being established, and part of why owners are hopeful the program could become attractive to regional or national artists in the future.

Beyond providing room and board for the artist, the Oxbow will host two community events parallel to the project. The first will be a discussion panel on creating public mural art on Saturday, June 9 from 3-5pm in the Oxbow Gallery. The panel will consist of Molly Z, Greg Johnson of Artisan Forge, 200 Main Gallery operator Jo Burke, and local artist Jason Anhorn. Nearing the completion of the mural, on Monday, June 11, people can celebrate the new art on-site with live screen printing of artwork inspired by the piece, also created by Molly Z, and an opportunity to have it signed by the artist. Visit Eau Claire and Tangled Up in Hue will both partner in the event.

“Eau Claire seemed like a natural, creative oasis,” Molly said of her recent visit to the city to scope out the mural site and learn about the location. “The Oxbow Hotel is fantastic, and I can’t wait to try more of the local restaurants, coffee shops, and nature!”

In addition to providing local artists with the chance to network and share ideas with creators from outside the Chippewa Valley, Meyer wants to spread the culture of Eau Claire through the program. 

“Just like our local artists will have a chance to create connections with the visiting artists and their scenes, those artists who visit will experience our people and place as well,” he said. “Then they go back to their own communities, and whatever their experience was, they can evangelize that in whatever way it manifests in them. So it’s important we welcome them, their ideas, and their art.”

“Community Design is an important area of practice because it not only includes contributing one’s technical skill set, but also one’s problem solving abilities and thinking strategies for the benefit of others,” Molly said. “It involves listening and communicating in order to discover what truly would benefit a group of people and their environment.”

Meyer would like to see the mural program become an annual event, and is exploring ways to fund and implement it in the future. Interested individuals can get involved now by volunteering to help paint parts of this year’s mural or by simply strolling by to take in the energy as the work goes up on the wall.

Applications for volunteers and artists who are interested in participating in the program next year are available on the Oxbow’s website, along with more information about the events. To learn more about Molly Z, visit her website at mollyz.net.