Published in the Canton Daily Ledger
Canton, Illinois — An old-fashioned ice cream social was held Friday in Jones Park to celebrate four murals depicting historic scenes of downtown Canton on the south wall of the J.C. Penney building, as well as the artists who made them.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held as well. Bill Cook, who grew up in Canton and owns the Penney building and other property of the Fulton Square Mall, was on hand for the festivities
Mayor Kevin Meade said this was “only the beginning” and may expand to add artwork to other bare walls of buildings, leading to an “outdoor art gallery.” Meade said the murals show others what beautiful art Canton has and encourage tourism.
Jim Murphy, president of CFC Properties, the property management company for Cook, asked if anyone ever looked at that wall before the murals were installed. How many people look at the wall every time they pass by now?
The crowd applauded in answer.
Murphy said the Cook group wanted to buy property they can be proud of; they wanted to create value and pride for Fulton Square Mall, as well as Canton and the community. He said when he first got involved, he did not know local artists. He asked Carol Davis, vice president of Spoon River College Outreach, who could do the murals. Within an hour, Davis introduced him to Scott and Tracy Snowman, owners of Snowman Studios of Canton. Before long, Murphy introduced the couple to Bill and Gayle Cook. The Cooks decided they could do the job.
Scott and Tracy Snowman did extensive research and an outstanding job, Murphy said. “I know they put their heart and soul in this.” After the murals were prepared, Bill and Gayle Cook viewed them and gave a “thumbs-up of approval,” Murphy said. He added he also got a lot of calls from people after the murals were installed.
Murphy said there was actually a traffic jam in the area as drivers paused to look at the murals. “One driver stopped and gave me a thumbs-up, and I knew we had a hit,” he said. “When someone points, you know it is a winner.”
He said the murals represent art, culture, history, and community.
Tracy and Scott Snowman were dressed in period costumes to reflect historic scenes in the murals, which were inspired by antique postcards. Tracy Snowman said there were some fun elements hidden in the artwork. Cook’s name appears in each mural, and a cameo portrait of him was snuck in mural No. 4. The murals are numbered from west to east, the order in which they were done. Murphy’s name also is hidden in mural No. 2, and his likeness is evident in the man on the corner in mural No. 1.
She added Scott Snowman and their daughter Taylor and son Jake modeled for people in each mural. “Scott and I appear in the buggy on the street of mural No. 4 wearing the costumes you see us in today. Even our family cat made a debut in No. 3,” she said.
She explained old-school technology was used along with new technology to make the 12-foot by 16-foot murals. Small postcards were scanned into a computer, printed and then redrawn with the use of an overhead projector. Old-fashioned latex house paint was applied. To create the sky, paint rollers were used by multiple artists to blend the colors together. Each mural consists of four panels. The panels were sealed with two coats of ultraviolet ray protectant to give the colors a long life.
“As we look around at so many good things happening in Canton, we see what constitutes a rebirth, or renaissance. For those who have spent a lifetime here, words cannot fully express the joy we feel in seeing Canton move forward in so many positive directions. Despite hardships of the past including loss of industry, fires and natural disasters, Canton people are resilient and loyal,” she said.
“Mr. Cook, your vision, your determination, your drive have inspired so many of us that it is hard to identify the full domino effect of what you have started. When we first learned that we had been awarded the commission for this project, we felt a great sense of gratitude and definitely responsibility not to let you down. We wanted to prove to you that even small-town artists could be up to the task of meeting your expectations for quality and performance.
“The things you have started here in Canton have inspired other businesses and citizens to invest in Canton’s future. As a result of the many projects that you have started, the people of Canton realize that there is no end to where we can go. You have raised the bar for us. You have asked more of us than we have at times asked of ourselves. You have proven that we can achieve more than we thought. You have proven to us that one person can definitely make a difference, and so we honor you today with a small gift and thank you for being a catalyst in Canton’s 21st-century renaissance.”
Scott Snowman then presented a plaque to Cook.
She also thanked Murphy for his encouragement, kindness, dignity, and respect. Her husband then presented a plaque of appreciation to Murphy as well.
She additionally thanked Mike Walters, “our go-to Canton historian” and owner of NAPA Auto Parts, for sharing those historic postcards and other information about the square’s history with the Snowman family. Scott Snowman presented a plaque of appreciation to Walters.
Tracy Snowman noted her children were involved in the actual work of the murals, too. Taylor and Jake painted, modeled, moved panels and critiqued the work. It was truly a team effort, she said.
She also thanked Randy Wilson, director of Parlin-Ingersoll Library, for helping with research; her husband’s father Tom Snowman for assisting with perspective and design; Ricky’s Signs for doing a great job mounting and installing the murals; Missy Towery, director of Canton Area Chamber of Commerce, for organizing the event and helping with the ribbon-cutting ceremony; and Dave and Terry Pickel, owner of Katy and Tory’s for serving the delicious free ice cream.
In closing, Tracy Snowman also thanked Canton residents who have stopped to enjoy the murals and for their cards, emails, phone calls and kind words.