When you think of Cheyenne, the first thing that probably comes to mind is Cheyenne Frontier Days: The western-themed celebration has operated for more than 120 years, and the downtown area is decorated to reflect that era.
But some officials, residents, and artists would like to see Cheyenne expand its diversification and join more modern times. The vibrant colors of the murals scattered throughout downtown help add to that progression.
In 2015, the Cheyenne Mural Project was created from an $18,000 technical assistance grant from the Downtown Development Authority in Cheyenne and Wyoming Main Street to create the murals. Main Street is a downtown improvement organization operated through the Wyoming Business Council. The group wanted to improve the walkability and appeal of downtown and from money received from the grant, they commissioned four murals.
The first mural commissioned was awarded to Jordan Dean. His 60-feet, guitar playing, electric blue bison dances on the south wall of the Majestic Building just outside of the Paramount Cafe. The piece was inspired by the Rock the Block concerts in the parking lot cafe every summer, and he wanted to bring that same energy to his mural. Dean is a local artist whose biggest piece before the bison mural could fit in his SUV. He was 28 at the time and grateful to have had enough sense to figure out how to pull it off.
It took Dean two weeks to complete the mural from morning to midnight. He worked on a lift to first apply the block filler then he used regular exterior house paint for the majority of the piece with some spray paint for line work.
“These big mural projects come with long days and lots of effort,” Dean said. “I find myself energized from painting all day. If you enjoy what you’re doing, you’re doing it right. So, peace be the journey.”
Amy Surdamm, executive director of the DDA at the time, received a note from a hospital patient who watched the bison being painted from the hospital bed. The patient said the mural was comforting in a time of distress.
Eddie Fernandez considers himself a street artist. He is in the military stationed at Buckley Air Force base in Aurora, Colorado, but lives in Cheyenne. Fernandez grew up tagging walls and had a teacher catch him “tagging,” i.e. spraying graffiti, typically gang graffiti, in a bathroom in school. This teacher, John Arcinega, took the time to show Fernandez street artists from around the world, and he told him he had enough talent to be one of those artists – but not from jail. This mentorship turned Fernandez around.
Fernandez has done seven outdoor murals in Cheyenne. The first one he received compensation for was the Bruce Lee wall that he painted on the Cheyenne Martial Art Systems building. Fernandez, who was 34 at the time, approached the owner of the building and asked him if he could paint Lee, his hero, on the side of the building. Fernandez suggested to the owner that if he liked it, maybe he could donate some money to help pay for expenses for the wall, or if it wasn’t to his liking Fernandez would repaint the wall white. Today there stands a one-story mural with BruceLee, a dragon and the words “the key to immortality is first living a life worth remembering.”
Fernandez was approached by Linda Guerrero to paint a memorial wall for Silas Ojeda. Silas was a 13-month-old boy who was killed by his mother’s boyfriend Logan Rogers and whose body was never located. Rogers was sentenced to 18-20 years in prison after pleading guilty to manslaughter. The mural is meant to memorialize Silas and raise awareness about child abuse. The mural stands two stories and includes a portrait of Silas, teddy bears, and the words “every child’s life matters”. Steve Sears, the owner of Cheyenne Stitch, where Fernandez painted the mural, was proud to offer up the wall for the memorial knowing it was for a good cause.
Fernandez is trying to bring more street art to Cheyenne: He created Paint Slingers who, in partnership with 4ever West Tattoo Festival, have a three-day summer festival to celebrate street art and tattooing.
As you crest the hill on the Warren Avenue viaduct a three-story cherub comes into view. This mural was completed by the artist Michael Cooper. The mural adorns the Murray building and was commissioned by Ed Murray. The mural design is based on the cherubs of Donatello, an Italian Renaissance artist, and sculptor who lived in Florence.
Another mural that the DDA commissioned is above Marv’s Pawn Shop. This mural blends in with the downtown area because it is in the western motif. The mural depicts Wyoming’s outdoors, its heritage, and its culture. Scott created an American Indian, a train, a bison, an Indian paintbrush flower, and a western meadowlark. The work also includes a cutaway vision of the layers of the earth filled with fossils. This piece was done by Tyler Scott.
Scott, who also has murals behind Ernie November’s, began his art career at age 12 and did his first mural at age 14 at his high school in Chugwater.
“Art is always subject to judgment,” Scott said. “Create what you see fit. Don’t let anything stand between you and your visions.”
Through the years many murals have been added to the Cheyenne area. The DDA is looking to connect them together and plans in June 2021 to host “Against the Wind,” a week-long celebration of graffiti and street art. The festival hopes to bring in 10-15 local, national,
and international artists to do a series of murals during the week to connect the existing murals.
Against the Wind advances the DDA’s mission and goals by bringing art out of the galleries and into the alleys, thereby diversifying the downtown landscape to reflect the unique voice of the community.
The weeklong celebration of art, urban beautification, creativity, and culture presents unique opportunities for community engagement and tourism. By expanding and enhancing the existing murals into a curated gallery, the DDA will create new destination space for our community.
To see the murals, go to:
Bruce Lee is at Cheyenne Martial Arts Systems 2528 E. Lincolnway.
Blue Bison Majestic Building is at 1603 Capitol Ave
Silas Ojeda is at 1408 E. 13th St.
Presidential Barbershop is at 219 W. 16th St.