the419 sat down with Ruth Ann Sturgill, the artist behind the downtown Lima murals. The first mural was completed in 2014, depicting 29 past and present members of the Lima community on the side of the Don Jenkins Jewelers building on Elizabeth Street. The second mural painted by Sturgill was completed this May and can be seen on the wall of the Meeting Place on Market building on Market Street. The murals are have been a part of Lima’s mission to beautify the downtown Lima area.
Interview and story by Janet Ferguson
Starting the Mural
“It is an incredible story of someone having total faith in me,” said Ruth Ann Sturgill, the artist behind the murals in downtown Lima.
“I had worked with Diane Peterson on a few projects and she called me and said, ‘Can you paint big?’ and I said, ‘Huh?’ and she repeated herself. I said well I have just finished a portrait close to life size, 36×48 so three-quarters life size and she said, ‘Well this will be bigger,” Sturgill remembered with a laugh.
Sturgill had worked with Peterson on a couple of things for Square Fair and their paths had crossed because of art, but just enough to say ‘Hi’ to each other at random meetings.
“She told me she was hand picking me for a few reasons,” said Sturgill.
Peterson told her that they picked her because they knew she could do it and, more importantly, she knew Sturgill would see it through to completion.
“That’s when the pressure really set in.”
Sturgill says after her nerves settled a bit, she was ready to get started.
“I’ve always been one of those people that, if you throw me a challenge, you bet I’ll do it.”
How she came to paint
Sturgill says during high school at Shawnee, she found her love for art but never saw it as something she could do as a profession.
Eventually, she found herself working in cake decorating.
“My mother was a seamstress so I was familiar with the process of creating and building something. I just applied those same skills to decorating.”
Those skills proved to be invaluable to Sturgill and she quickly found herself traveling all over to compete and won top honors at one of the events.
Once that happened, Sturgill wondered what to do next.
“I was ready for my next challenge, but I just didn’t know what that was going to be.”
Then, while working for a baker, an order came in with a request for a portrait to be put on a cake.
“It was a polaroid snapshot with a head the size of the end of my little finger and I was in tears. I had no idea how to do something like that! I told the baker to call them back and tell them no – but she wouldn’t. She was challenging me to try and do it.”
Once Sturgill saw the finished product, she was in shock.
“Once again, it was someone having faith in me that I didn’t have.”
However, the problem with cakes is they are supposed to be eaten. Sturgill realized that watching someone devour the cake she worked so tirelessly to make perfect broke her heart.
“My heart and soul went into every one,” she said.
Eventually, she decided to make more permanent art.
“I found a paint kit that I had paid $2 for at a garage sale and, at the time, my husband said I would never use it. I didn’t know the first iota of what I was doing. Actually, when my husband saw my first painting, he laughed!” she remembered.
But that only fueled her desire to learn everything she could about the art.
“Of course now my husband claims that he knew if he laughed, it would push me to conquer this.”
Her very first show at Laurel Oaks sold out.
“I probably didn’t make a dollar an hour. So in hindsight, it didn’t make enough money from a business perspective. I wish I still had those pieces, especially because of the umpteen hours I spent on them. But I truly never started to paint with the intent of selling my work.”
Finishing the Mural
So after Peterson approached her, Sturgill started her research. She poured over books, magazines, articles, anything she could find to learn about other artists and what types of paint and materials they used to create murals.
“I just wanted to make sure I had all the knowledge before I started. I wanted to do it right. I wanted it to bring a sense community pride.”
The mural was originally supposed to be 10 life-size portraits, but over a period of months, that number almost tripled.
“It really snowballed. At first, [Diane] told me I have 12 right off the bat. Then there were 15 and pretty soon there were 18 and I finally said ‘that’s really, really pushing it’ for the deadline,'” she laughed.
Once the number crept up to 20, Sturgill asked Peterson when they were going to cut it off and say “that’s it!”
“She told me ‘I can’t say no, they’d be heartbroken!’ The final number ended up being 29. I was pretty much in tears telling Diane I didn’t want to let her down but I didn’t think I could physically complete the mural by the deadline.”
But Sturgill charged forward and began preparing the panels. Her research continued throughout the process as she reached out to other mural artists to learn what kind of wood to use, how to sand it properly, how to make the edges less vulnerable, and how many coats of paint to use without compromising the quality and durability of the mural.
“It was quite the learning curve,” she remembered.
One of her favorite parts about creating the mural was meeting the very people she was painting.
“I invited everyone that had been nominated to come in and have a part in the process, including painting their initials. It was a way to create ownership for them. It was really incredible.”
“These people came and told me their stories. We laughed together and cried together and reminisced,” she said nostalgically.
“People would come in and say either ‘you nailed it’ or ‘can we adjust this or adjust that.'”
Sturgill says it was important to her because she wanted the mural to represent the person they were or the person they knew regardless of the photo she was using.
“I learned so much history about the area and what people contributed. It was truly special”
More to Come
“I think they are very close to getting two more up on the Don Jenkins Jeweler’s building,” she shared.
“They are just wonderful of Scott Koenig’s father and grandfather, Don Jenkins and Don Koenig; one will be on either side of the building on the second story where it says Don Jenkins Jeweler.”
Sturgill is currently planning another mural and in the process of securing the building for it to go on. She continues to get requests for a third mural but says it will be different, including people seated as well as standing.
She is currently taking nominations and is limiting this one to just 12. The cost is $850 through September and $950 after September. The unveiling will take place in 2017.