He was looking for something to give the drab office walls some comfort and warmth. So Pat Boylan, chief deputy public defender in Sarpy County, called up Omaha muralist Richard Harrison to see what he could come up with.
The result? One mural quoting the preamble of the Constitution and another of a window overlooking a landscape.
The murals, located inside the public defender's office at 1208 Golden Gate Drive in Papillion, provide just what Boylan was hoping: a reminder for clients, who are there because they can't afford attorneys, that it's their constitutional right to be represented. The window mural, meanwhile, makes the office feel more friendly and open.
“It puts people at ease,” Boylan said, “or kind of breaks the ice when they come in.”
Harrison owns A Midsummer's Mural, an Omaha company that paints murals for the interiors and exteriors of businesses, churches and residences. Based out of a workshop at 7918 Ames Circle, his team of artists has seen an uptick in larger projects, mostly due to businesses saying they create an aesthetically pleasing environment and, in some cases, bring in more customers.
For A Midsummer's Mural, that has meant growing the group of three artists — Harrison; his 21-year-old daughter, Rebecca; and Mike Giron, who's an independent artist with M. Giron Artworks and has collaborated with Harrison for years — to seven on their most recent project.
Booked with various jobs through Thanksgiving, Harrison said creating more murals is great for promoting art and a sense of community. It's an added bonus that local businesses are seeing a boost.
“It's interesting to think an artist can help a business be successful,” Harrison said.
Started in 1999, A Midsummer's Mural has painted banks, spas, restaurants, bakeries, nursing homes, day care centers and offices. Residences are also popular, with people requesting a variety of scenes, including landscapes, golf courses, vineyards and windows overlooking a vacation destination.
The artists have also painted walls with themes such as billiards, Boy Scouts and other hobbies or interests. The murals sometimes include a personal touch, like a portrait of someone or a pet.
The cost depends on its scale and the types of materials used, Harrison said, and can run from as little as $6 per square foot to as much as $144 per square foot.
Harrison estimates that he's painted some 600 murals, most of which have been in the Omaha area, though he's gone as far as Chicago. He's painted murals in Missouri Valley and is working with the town's chamber of commerce to design a mural about the community's history.
In the past few years, artists with A Midsummer's Mural have spent a lot of time working on projects along the Leavenworth Street business corridor in Midtown, creating what they call “a public art gallery.” The group has painted seven murals in that area in just the last three years.
Their newest finished project there is a 20-by-60-foot exterior mural on the west side of VFW Post 247 near 33rd and Leavenworth Streets that's dedicated to veterans and includes the word “freedom” and the phrase “thanks to those who protect our freedom” across a picturesque American landscape of a tree, barn, American flag and child playing on a tire swing.
In addition to Harrison, Giron and Rebecca Harrison, who is an art history graduate from the University of Nebraska at Omaha, the artists on the project were:
>> Jeremiah Neal, a recovered drug addict turned artist who oversees the Siena-Francis House's Artists in Recovery program.
>> Pamela Conyers-Hinson, a sculptor and teaching artist for local studios and museums like the Joslyn.
>> Eddith Buis, a retired art teacher with the Omaha Public Schools and Metropolitan Community College.
>> Larry Lentz, a resident of the neighborhood near the VFW Post 247 who had experience in painting.
Also helping were students at the Kent Bellows Art Studio and Center for the Arts.
Other Leavenworth projects include a soon-to-be completed mural inside the Avanza grocery store along Park Avenue between St. Mary's Avenue and Leavenworth Street, where the company last summer completed an exterior mural featuring fruits and vegetables, and a bright antique-themed mural on the side of Jim's Seek and Save at 4679 Leavenworth St.
Painted a couple of years ago by Giron, the Jim's Seek and Save mural has drawn people to the store after hours and been the background for families posing for photographs, owner Jim Rhodes said. He has started to put out items on the sidewalk because people will see the mural, glance at the items and stop by.
“It draws people's eyes over,” he said of the mural.
Murals have had the same effect a little farther west at the Venice Inn restaurant. The Venice-inspired mural speckled with Caniglia restaurant history that greets hungry customers as they walk through the doors at 6930 Pacific St. has drawn out-of-towners to stop by for a meal, owner Chuck Caniglia said.
“That happened recently,” he said. “People from out of town that were staying in a hotel down the street from here, they were looking for a place to eat. They said they saw my red checkered tablecloths outside (on the deck) and my mural. They said that made it look like a nice place to go and eat.”
As a business itself, A Midsummer's Mural has had to rethink in the last year how it makes money and gets projects. The company has taken on grant writing itself, a task it previously outsourced. Grants often include more steps than just getting the art up on the wall. They require that artists educate kids, hold an event and have an advertising plan.
“It's a new way of thinking,” Harrison said.
“And it involves a lot of people,” said Giron, who's also an art teacher at Metro Community College.
That's how the VFW project came together. Funded with a grant from the Nebraska Arts Council and help from the Leavenworth Neighborhood Association, the Mutual of Omaha Foundation and members of St. Andrew United Methodist Church, the mural provided an opportunity for kids at Jackson Elementary School near the VFW to learn about veterans and participate in art.
Last week, the artists met with Jackson students in the school's summer program to talk about mural painting, and the kids got to draw on a smaller mock-up of the VFW mural. The next day, several veterans visited to talk about what freedom means and explained to the kids how to make good life choices.
Next week, A Midsummer's Mural and the VFW will hold a dedication for the mural during National Night Out.
The shift in how the company does business hasn't been a burden to the artistry, Harrison said. While art is his passion, he enjoys working with members of the community, helping to foster a greater sense of community and promoting businesses.
“We're getting a sense that we're making a difference,” he said.