Elevator mural would make grand gesture

Picture an image of a farmer cupping soil between his hands while kneeling over the land. His parents and family are next to him, with crops beginning to emerge.

Emile deMilliano would like this picture painted on a blank silo or grain elevator on the Prairies. It would be a grand gesture, he said, telling the story of Canadian agriculture.

“I think it’s a huge opportunity for communities; they could draw tourism and make a statement,” he said. “A story is itching to be told.”

The idea of painting a mural on a silo or elevator isn’t exactly new, but deMilliano and others hope small towns will give it some thought.

DeMilliano, an agronomist by trade who has worked in the industry for 40 years, said many people complain that they think the drive through the Prairies is boring. He always enjoys the drive, but said a grand mural of some kind could make others more appreciative.

“I want people to drive up in front of this thing and go ‘wow,’ ” he said. “In agriculture there is a human element and a history. Homesteaders came here and developed this land. Think of the effort they had to make to do that. They wanted to make a better life for themselves.”

One of the most notable agriculture murals is on a peanut silo in Colquitt, Georgia.

The mural stands 30 metres tall, towering over the small town. It wraps around all four sides of the silo, with images of cotton, corn and peanuts.

It depicts a Georgia farmer pulling up his peanuts and inspecting them to see whether they should be harvested.

The artist, Charlie Johnston of Winnipeg, said the mural expresses the work ethic and spirituality of farmers. They are the benevolent figures watching over the community, he said, and the painting tells the stories of producers in the area.

“It has become this huge feature,” said Johnston.

“By and large, people get disconnected from where food comes from and they take it for granted. When we can express that message through art, it is powerful and moving. It helps reconnect people and recognize the importance of connection, the land, and the people who work the land,” he said.

As well, the mural has helped Colquitt see some revitalization, Johnston said.

Since it was completed in 2011, he said, some of the core businesses have re-opened. Travellers are going out of their way to visit the town to see the mural.

“They have experienced direct revitalization and the impact is ever-present,” Johnston said.

It’s also become a blueprint for other small communities looking to paint something similar, he added.

In Legal, Alta., dozens of murals have made the small town a destination for tourists.

These are two of the murals that have turned Legal, Alta., into a tourist destination. | Town of Legal photos

The town, which has strong francophone roots, has more than 35 murals on storefronts and civic buildings. They depict agricultural families and leaders who helped build the town, as well as moments in history and cultural symbols.

“We do get tour buses coming through here. We’ve even had Europeans tour here,” said Jacques Martel, who has painted eight murals in the town.

“When the tours come through here, it helps the small businesses, the restaurants and the food store. Every little bit helps,” he said.

As well, children become familiar with their history, he added, which helps them understand where they come from.

“I think a mural on some silo would be great,” Martel said.

Johnston would also like a mural of similar magnitude to Colquitt’s painted on the Prairies. He said it would work well in a place where the silo anchors the community.

It would take lots of collaboration, as well as financial support, to get it done.

In Colquitt, he said, funding was provided by the federal and state governments, as well as the silo company. As well, community members stepped up to raise dollars.

“Every level of society was involved for support,” Johnston said. “It’s a powerful and unifying force, and it takes community leaders to step up to the plate and provide their vision when wanting something of this calibre.”

DeMilliano said a potential mural could also offer educational opportunities.

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