With A Splash Of Paint, Pueblo’s Arkansas Levee Mural Is Born Again

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Shanna Lewis for KRCC
Muralist Valrie Eisemann of LaVeta is among the first four artists to work on the new levee wall. She’s creating a mandala. Oct. 2020

Bright colors have blossomed once again on the concrete face of Pueblo’s Arkansas River levee. Paintings are going up in an effort to reclaim a lost public art space and the title of the world’s largest outdoor mural.

Muralist Valrie Eisemann of LaVeta is among the first of four artists to work on the new levee wall. Using paint donated by a local recycling company, as well as some that she bought herself, she’s creating a colorful mandala.

“These are sacred geometry designs that a lot of people are really enjoying nowadays,” she said.

Muralists have to rope up for safety to work on the steeply sloped concrete. But that isn’t slowing any of them down.

Each artist will bring their own unique vision and ideas to the project.

Celeste Velazquez of Pueblo said her imagery is of a native woman that references the Azteca community, as well as Toltec and Olmec cultures.

“She's going to have like four arms, almost like a shaman and there's going to be the spirit Quetzalcoatl in the back of her in her native tent,” Velazquez said.

Shanna Lewis for KRCC
Attached by ropes to the Arkansas River levee wall, Celeste Velazquez of Pueblo works on her mural. Oct. 2020
Shanna Lewis for KRCC
Puebloan Thomas Garbiso works on his mural on the Arkansas River levee wall. Oct. 2020

Puebloan Thomas Garbiso's piece is a mountain view along I-70. “I love the colors, the sunset, the view, mountains, scenery, and that's what I wanted to capture.”

Aurora artist Kalyn Connolly’s design is of a deer with Colorado flora and fauna on its antlers, including columbines, crows and white butterflies.

“It's meant to represent growth and strength through hard times,” she said, “just to appreciate nature.”

All the artists are excited to be among the first brush paint on the levee since construction to repair it started six years ago.

“I think it's bringing life back into what people consider the heart of Pueblo,” said longtime artist and levee mural coordinator Cynthia Ramu. She was among the original painters and wants to get her work on the wall again.

According to Ramu, since the 1970s, hundreds of people helped create the murals that once lined the levee.

“Eventually, it became like a storybook for a lot of people," Ramu said. So probably 90 percent of the people I know are not artists, but this was an important place for them and it was their history."

Cynthia Ramu works on one of the murals along the levee
Courtesy: Cynthia Ramu / Pueblo Levee Mural Project
Cynthia Ramu works on one of the original murals along the levee

Some of that history is literally underfoot because the concrete with the old murals was torn off during the repair project and then ground up and used to create a walking trail for the top of the levee.

Seeing the old artwork destroyed was gut-wrenching for Ramu and lots of others, so she thinks the new murals will mean a lot to both artists and the community.

“I feel 100 feet tall,” she said, “I feel so excited at the possibility. It's kind of like moving forward. It's just endless possibility.”

Shanna Lewis for KRCC
Longtime Pueblo artist and levee mural coordinator Cynthia Ramu watches as the first murals go up on the Arkansas River levee. Oct. 2020

Pueblo Arts Alliance director Karen Fogelsong agreed. She said public art affects the community’s spirit and the levee mural project has a special place in the city’s past and its future.

“One of my favorite things is to see beautiful art go on yucky cement,” Fogelsong said. “So let's put beauty on top of it. On viaducts on levees, on the sides of buildings, wherever we can make it beautiful.”

Fogelsong thinks if Pueblo can regain the world record, it’ll draw tourists to the area to see it. The current record is held by a mural in South Korea that’s more than 254,000 square feet — so a lot of art is needed again to beat that.

It could happen though. More applications for new murals are rolling in and creative energy is flowing along this part of the Arkansas River.