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updated: 10/4/2013 9:52 AM

Moving Picture: Wheaton muralist works on 'masterpiece'

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  • Video: Moving Picture: The Muralist

  • Artist R.J. Ogren works on a mural "Pearls of the Universe" on a 16x70 foot brick wall at 1026 College Ave., Wheaton. The mural is inspired by a poem by Wheaton resident Mehret Asgedom.

       Artist R.J. Ogren works on a mural "Pearls of the Universe" on a 16x70 foot brick wall at 1026 College Ave., Wheaton. The mural is inspired by a poem by Wheaton resident Mehret Asgedom.
    Mark Black | Staff Photographer

  • Former Disney artist R.J. Ogren at his home studio.

       Former Disney artist R.J. Ogren at his home studio.
    Mark Black | Staff Photographer

  • "Pearls of the Universe" artist R.J. Ogren talks with those coming to sign a star on the mural.

       "Pearls of the Universe" artist R.J. Ogren talks with those coming to sign a star on the mural.
    Mark Black | Staff Photographer

  • R.J. Ogren works on some elephants in an exhibit while working as a management artist at Disney World.

      R.J. Ogren works on some elephants in an exhibit while working as a management artist at Disney World.
    courtesy of R.J. Ogren

  • Artist R.J. Ogren mixes paint as he does detail work on the "Pearls of the Universe" mural in Wheaton.

       Artist R.J. Ogren mixes paint as he does detail work on the "Pearls of the Universe" mural in Wheaton.
    Mark Black | Staff Photographer

  • Wheaton residents and others are invited to sign a star on the mural "Pearls of the Universe." The mural celebrates the immigrant journey to Wheaton.

       Wheaton residents and others are invited to sign a star on the mural "Pearls of the Universe." The mural celebrates the immigrant journey to Wheaton.
    Mark Black | Staff Photographer

 
 

When he was a boy, R.J. Ogren found himself spending a lot of time in his elementary school library.

It wasn't so much the books that attracted young R.J. as much as the large mural on the library wall. The painting wasn't anything fancy -- just a simple country scene of a young boy sitting in the shade of a tree reading a book -- but it somehow spoke to R.J.

He'd find himself gazing at the mural and losing himself in the image, a young boy intrigued by the boundless possibilities of art.

It really shouldn't have been a surprise. From the time he was 3 and living in St. Charles, R.J. was always drawing, often tackling Disney characters, with a particular emphasis on Donald Duck.

He couldn't have realized it then, but his interest in art and Disney would play a key role in his career and eventually lead him to paint many of his own murals, including one on the side of a yoga studio that Wheaton officials hope will become a downtown landmark and a symbol of how the community embraces immigrants and diversity.

Ogren's talents seem obvious now, but he didn't take his first formal art class until he was a senior in high school and, if he had any dreams of becoming an artist, he put them on hold during a four-year stint in the Navy during the Vietnam War.

When he emerged from the military he attended the University of Miami and graduated with a degree in art education. He taught for a year, but his real dream, his real goal, was to somehow put his talents to work for Disney.

He moved to Orlando and joined the Florida National Guard, where an officer learned of his fascination with all things Disney and helped him get a job driving a monorail at the Magic Kingdom. While there, Ogren spotted an ad in the company newsletter for a job in the art department and, after countless interviews, won the gig. He spent the next five years, from 1975 to 1980, working on murals and virtually every attraction in the park.

Fast forward 24 years and Ogren, now retired from his work with the Disney corporation, is back in the Wheaton area creating murals in houses, businesses and museums, as well as doing some set work for Wheaton Drama.

When Wheaton's fine arts and community relations commissions were looking for a muralist to celebrate the city's diversity, he was an obvious choice.

Ogren set out to paint "Pearls of the Universe" on the east side of Essencia Yoga studio at 1026 College Ave.

When it's finished -- dedication ceremonies are planned for 1 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 6, -- the mural will be roughly 70 feet wide and 16 feet high.

"I hope this will be my masterpiece," Ogren said. "I've done some nice paintings, but I hope this will be something that will inspire people in some way."

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