In case Orange City’s Dutch heritage isn’t already abundantly clear, a new mural being painted downtown by two Northwestern graduates ought to do the trick.
Once completed, the 100-by-22-foot mural on the north wall of Dove Christian Book Store will feature large, brightly-colored tulips with a windmill in the background.
“If tulips were the size of people, and people were the size of tulips, this is what it would look like,” said Mark Alsum, who is painting the mural with Zach Maxon.
Alsum, whose wife, Rebecca, is also an alumnus and is the resident director of Steggy, and Maxon both graduated from NW in 2009 with degrees in art. They were roommates
“That’s when we fell in love,” Maxon said with a playful smirk.
The two lanky artists with paint smears encrusted in their clothes occupy much of their time at the wall amusing each other.
“The question is, how many hours have we spent here versus how many have we actually worked?” Alsum said.
The mural is Alsum and Maxon’s first artistic collaboration, and the project has come with its fair share of challenges.
“Early on, before we started painting, it was all problem-solving,” Alsum said. “It’s not like a small painting where you can just go with the flow.”
“It’s so big, you can’t even see what you’re doing until you stop painting and back up 40 feet,” Maxon said.
Alsum estimated the mural is three to four times larger than any painting he has done before. To guide their paint strokes, Alsum and Maxon drew a grid on the wall that corresponds to a grid on their design.
“Right now, it’s kind of like a big paint-by-number,” Alsum said. “Once we get to the refining stage, then it will be more like real painting.”
Alsum estimated the mural is approximately 60 percent complete. He expects to finish it in mid-October.
So far, the mural has received almost completely positive feedback.
“All but one comment has been positive,” Alsum said, “and that one was from a guy driving by who said, ‘Not more tulips.’”
Orange City’s Community Betterment Board, the group overseeing of the project, required the mural’s subject to reflect Dutch heritage.
“I have to balance what the city wants with what I would like to do as an artist and find some way to meld the two,” Alsum said.
To express both Dutch heritage and his own artistic style, Alsum combined tulips with a bold-colored, high-contrast design. He submitted his proposal to the Betterment Board in early June.
“Like any public work, it’s meant for the public to enjoy,” Alsum said. “When it’s February and 20 below, people can see tulips and have hope for spring.”
An artist since childhood, Alsum credits his liberal arts education at NW for much of his artistic growth. “What I loved about NW was that I took classes in art as well as other subjects, and I saw the connection,” Alsum said. “Had I only studied art, I still would have gotten a good education, but I wouldn’t have seen the connection art has with the rest of the world.”
According to Alsum, the planning and problem-solving skills that art involves are applicable to many disciplines.