When Nicole Shulters was a young girl tracing the cereal boxes from her family’s kitchen, no one expected that a decade later she’d be painting a mural in Uptown Ashland. But, as her pastime turned to passion under the influence of teacher Mark Schoenleber at Ashland High School, it seemed fitting.
When her dad, owner of Dan’s Shoe Repair on 2nd St. in Ashland, suggested a mural on the side wall of his building as Nicole’s senior project, she decided to embark upon a journey that has not been accomplished successfully since restrictions on public art were lifted in 2009. At 17, she was unintentionally pioneering.
And so in September 2011 the process began. Shulters brought a sample painting of the mural-to-be to the Ashland Public Arts Commission with the request to paint it on the wall facing Ender’s Alley on the Dan’s Shoe Repair building. As these things go, each potential impact of the mural must be considered and the proper steps must be followed. After Shulters’ second meeting, with written proposal in hand, hesitation was expressed on the part of the Public Arts Commission due to the urban feel of the painting. They were concerned that it may not fit well with Ashland’s small-town feel.
After leaving the meeting Shulters added some hills to the background, modeling them after the very hills nestling Ashland in their valley. Grizzly peak is depicted, with the hills companionably surrounding it. She also added new details to the buildings in the skyline to mimic local businesses.
This time the Public Arts Commission tentatively accepted the proposal. Not surprisingly, there was an array of opinions from the locals in response to a letter sent out by the Arts Commission requesting their feedback regarding the mural. Some thought the colors too bold, others thought it would be a breath of fresh air after walking past the wall that Shulters referred to as “UGLY!” Upon final approval Nicole was sent to City Council.
Ender’s Alley is up the hill from Main St., off South 2nd St in Uptown Ashland with Dan’s Shoe Repair situated snugly on the corner selling men’s and women’s boots and shoes, as well as repairing the footwear of Ashlanders. Many of the employees from other businesses in the area routinely make their way around that corner to take out their trash, walk to and from work, or to get a cup of joe from the Bloomsbury Coffee House, not to mention tourists going to and from Shakespeare.
With support from her mother, Shulters overcame the challenges. In an interview with Nicole she replied that one of the biggest lessons she’s learned from this process is “no matter how good you think something is, you can always make it better.”
Success was nearly hers as the City Council approved the mural. The Ashland Historic Commission was last to accept the change to the building, but technically should have been contacted first. After meeting with Bill Molnar, the city’s public works director, and being directed to the Historic Commission, in May 2012 the mural was graciously approved. The final hurtle had been leaped.
So now what? What kind of paint to use, where to get it, how to apply it: a brush, roller, sprayer, pressure sprayer? Once again, Dad helped out. He suggested his daughter give another local business the chance to get in on this community achievement. Phil Emard, owner of Ashland General (Ace) Hardware, gladly donated the exterior paint being used for the mural. Shulters presented a pallet of the colors she would be using for the mural, and when the time to paint arrived, her custom paint was ready and waiting…until she told them some colors had changed. But the replacements were pleasantly and quickly mixed up to match the new design.
Before painting, Shulters had to prep the wall. Using a square of sandpaper, she hand sanded all the rough spots on the old, ugly wall. Luckily it was only a couple of hours of work, and then priming was the next step. The mural was finally going up. Shulters initially used a can of black spray paint and drew the design on the freshly primed, white wall. After that it was a giant coloring page! Using brushes, Nicole colored her picture, utilizing some rags to add texture. However the project could not have been completed without some help from her brother, Mike, who welded a new covering on an air conditioning unit in the center of the mural.
So what’s next for the little girl who drew cereal boxes and ended up painting murals? Music will take center stage, with painting in private. When asked if she would return after finishing school in California, Shulters replied, “I love Ashland…I don’t feel like I need to get out; I feel like I need a new perspective on things.”