Artists paint Ukrainian sunflowers and dozens of other murals as art returns to the levee in Pueblo

· Mar. 31, 2022, 4:08 pm
Artists paint giant sunflowers on the Arkansas River Levee in Pueblo. It's a mural dedicated to the people of Ukraine.Artists paint giant sunflowers on the Arkansas River Levee in Pueblo. It's a mural dedicated to the people of Ukraine.Shanna Lewis/KRCC News
Artists paint giant sunflowers on the Arkansas River Levee in Pueblo. It's a mural dedicated to the people of Ukraine.

Bright yellow sunflowers set against a blue sky is one of many new murals blossoming on the Arkansas River Levee in Pueblo. It’s a mural dedicated to the people of Ukraine.

“I don't know if that does anything to the universe, but I hope so,” said Shannon Powers. “You know, just the feeling that there are people out there that care about you when you're suffering, I think is important.”

Powers is among the handful of artists working on the sunflowers. Longtime Pueblo Levee Mural coordinator Cynthia Ramu organized this group effort.

“Our canvas out here is a perfect place to share some solidarity,” Ramu said, “by sending a message from where we live as artists that art can really share the passion and the love.”

Shanna Lewis/KRCC News
Pueblo Levee Mural coordinator Cynthia Ramu (left) discusses painting the sunflower mural dedicated to the people of Ukraine with local artists Shannon Powers (center) and Patrick Smith (right).

She said they’ll be there every Saturday until the war in Ukraine ends.

“It's like a relationship in order to keep it alive,” she said. “You’ve got to keep touching it and it's going to change and it's going to weather. It's like a living painting; it's always evolving and transforming.”

Pueblo’s levee once held the Guinness World Record for the largest outdoor mural. For decades, hundreds of artists like Ramu painted on the nearly three-mile-long structure, creating one big mural. But eight years ago repairs to the levee destroyed that artwork. Now construction is done and artists have been back at work.

“Oh my God,” Ramu said, “55 murals in one year. That's insane.”

Their first goal is to be the largest outdoor mural in the United States. But they won’t stop there. The plan is to regain the world record, which is currently held by a site in South Korea. There’s a lot more levee to paint before that happens though. Ramu said the applications for new murals keep rolling in. Although the original mural was initially considered vandalism, it eventually became legal although still spontaneous. Designs are now approved by the Pueblo Conservancy District, which manages the levee.

Shanna Lewis/KRCC News
A colorful portrait of the late reggae musician Bob Marley is among dozens of new murals painted during the last year on the Arkansas River Levee in Pueblo.

Pueblo artist Dolores Duran just got started on her mural that’s designed to raise awareness about missing and murdered Indigenous women.

“I feel like that's a history that gets lost here in Pueblo, but it is very much a part of Pueblo and this is my hometown and so it means a lot to me. I feel very passionate about it,” she said.

Ramu said the section of the levee along the whitewater park, which is likely to get the most viewers, is reserved for murals with historical content about the region. So far, Ramu said two Pueblo-themed murals have been approved for this part of the project: “Heart of Steel” by Sarah Ballard honoring local women steelworkers, and one by Shannon Palmer depicting the 140-year history of Saint Mary-Corwin Hospital.

There’s a wide variety of other subjects already on the northwestern portion of the levee, including the late musician Bob Marley. A portrait of him was one of the most beloved images on the original mural, and now the reggae legend’s spirit is back on the wall again.

Photo of the same Bob Marley mural, taken Fall 2014, shows fading paint and plant growth through the concrete that makes up the levee.Credit Shanna Lewis / KRCC
The first Bob Marley mural painted on the Arkansas River Levee was destroyed during repairs to the structure. Photo taken in Fall 2014.

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