Naperville murals, much-delayed, now wrapping up
A project to turn the elevator and stairwell lobbies of a downtown Naperville parking garage into art representing five public high schools is expected to wrap up this summer.
The work began in 2010 inside the Van Buren parking garage at 43 W. Van Buren Ave. and was supposed to be finished sooner.
The plan was to decorate the western stairwell facing Main Street with murals by students from Naperville Central, Naperville North, Waubonsie Valley, Neuqua Valley and Metea Valley high schools, and to paint the north and south stairwells in each school's colors.
But after work stopped with the fifth, fourth and third floors finished in 2011, muralist Timm Etters said a "cascade of events" began to push back completion.
In the midst of seven years of construction delays, weather issues and health challenges, Etters said he's built friendships with the students helping him on the project called the KidsMatter Way-finding Murals.
Many of the 2010 and 2011 artists whose work graces the top floors have gone on to pursue dreams in art, animation and education, he said. Among them is a young man who paints surfboards in Hawaii, a young woman who sings jazz in Milwaukee and another young woman who teaches art in Tennessee.
Paola Sanchez, 20, of Oswego, thought for years she'd never get a chance to join.
When she was a junior at Metea Valley in Aurora, Sanchez said, she was recruited from a painting class to join the Way-Finding Murals. She was excited to be part of turning the first-floor elevator lobby into a black-and-gold zone representing the Mustangs.
"I thought it was a missed opportunity," Sanchez said, as the years went by. "No one asks you to paint a mural out of nowhere -- especially when you're in high school."
She's still getting to paint a mural, although now it's as a student at Waubonsee Community College.
Sanchez and Neuqua Valley graduates Ariel Dumagan, Suzanne Saballa and Angela Xu are helping Etters as he touches up work completed in past years and paints school colors in the first and second floor lobbies. Each school's floor also contains a replica of a mural Etters has painted at that building.
Sanchez, who said she plans to study cosmetology and pursue art on the side, said she enjoys the public interaction of painting her mural. She's creating a painted version of a photo showing her and her diverse group of friends along the Naperville Riverwalk.
"When you're in an art class, no one really stops to talk to you about your painting," Sanchez said. "It boosts your energy up to keep painting."
Now recovered from an elbow injury and heart problems that caused some of the delays, Etters said he's re-energized, too. He remembers counseling some artists through emotional phases as they painted images showing hardships loved ones have endured.
"This kind of emotion is what makes art special," Etters said.
The new estimated completion date for the murals, which are part of the Century Walk Corp. public art collection, is this summer.
Artists say the works will showcase the talents of Naperville artists.
"You can really see the different styles," Sanchez said, "and skills that the different kids have."