KEWANEE -- Area residents were out on foot, by covered tram and even a bicycle built for two on Sunday to get a look at 15 new historical Walldog murals in downtown Kewanee.
Painting of the murals from Wednesday to Sunday this week capped a two-year effort by a citizen's committee working with the Walldog artist organization headquartered in Pontiac. Some 150 "Walldog" artists came to Kewanee this week from all over the U.S. as well as Jamaica, New Zealand, Great Britain, Canada and Australia.
For the artists, who have formed many friendships with each other, Sunday was a day to smile at their achievements, visit other murals and say their goodbyes -- possibly until next summer's event.
Walldog event organizer Scott "Cornbread" Lindley, of Mount Pulaski, said the Kewanee event was great.
"We really enjoyed the hospitality of Kewanee folks," he said. "They have been excellent. Everything they said has been just perfect."
He said his favorite comments came from a young man on the first night when mural designs were projected onto the blank walls to be drawn in. "He said that this was so exciting; he never dreamed it would be this fantastic. He couldn't say enough about the whole experience."
"It will be one of those things; it'll be iconic for the city of Kewanee," he continued. "People may ride rallies out here, motorcycles here, just to see it. It will start raising some sales tax, and later on, they'll start improving roads and fixing sidewalks. ... Normally, murals would cost $10,000 to $15,000, and we did it for only a fraction of that cost. So, it's a big benefit for the community that needs it. I look for towns like that that need us, that need that shot of adrenaline to get it going."
Kewanee raised $100,000 for the Walldog murals, but some of that money will go toward upkeep and maintenance.
Walldog artist Bernie Gietl, of Carlinville, was helping to complete a mural on Sunday commemorating four Kewanee authors -- George Randall Parrish, brothers Fred and John Glidden and "Stars and Stripes" illustrator Leroy Cyrus Baldridge.
"Each year they seem to get better and better in the quality, the artwork and the designing," he said. "I don't know what causes that. There's no competition in it."
Dave Kniker, a 29-year Kewanee resident, hosted two Walldog artists in his home and was out taking pictures of the murals on Sunday. He said he appreciated the inside glimpse of the Walldog organization and their commitment to their work.
"This is phenomenal. It's a huge pick-me-up for the community, on top of the art," he said. "I know an artist from Los Angeles rode her Harley all the way here. Their experiences together have turned them into a real family."
Jeanne DeConinck, of Kewanee, appreciatively looked at a mural in honor of the Dreamland movie theater, noting it was before her time. She said the faces were really good on the murals, including the face of one man she knew, famous motorcycle racer Roger Reiman, on the Reiman mural.
"I knew Roger, and it looks just like him. It's almost like a photograph, but they painted it on there," she said.
Dennie and Dianne Packee, owners of Reiman's Harley-Davidson dealership in Kewanee and local Walldogs coordinators, found airbrush artist Dustin Hobert, of Rock Island, to work on the Reiman mural after Mr. Hobert won first place in motorcycle painting in Las Vegas.
Reiman's mural project leader, Dale Manor, said the Reiman mural especially is significant to him because his cousin was a dirt track racer who died in an accident at age 26. Mr. Manor said the checkered flags Mr. Reiman won at his three 1960s Daytona victories are painted identical to scale on the mural. Gold leaf was donated for trim on the mural in honor of gold leaf on Mr. Reiman's helmets and motorcycles.
"It's expensive. I've only seen it done on one other mural," said Mr. Manor.
Douglas Irwin, of Kewanee, said he thought the murals were great, and he was glad to see the contribution of Kewanee philanthropist E.E. Baker of the Kewanee Boiler Corp. memorialized.
"I'm surprised at how well the community accepted everything and turned out for it," he said.
Heartfelt Gifts shop owner Sue Sagmoen, who helped work on the project, noted the Walldog artists said Kewanee was one of the best towns they'd worked in.
"They really felt comfortable here. The town was really appreciative," she said.
Ms. Sagmoen noted Heartfelt's Facebook page tracked the progress of the streetcar mural around the corner from her shop. Streetcars traversed Kewanee for 30 years starting in 1903 under the name "Galesburg and Kewanee Electric Railway," six years later sending interurban cars between Kewanee and Galva to the west.
Kewanee resident Lois Cecil turned out to see the mural for the fast-food restaurant Sandy's, which had its start in Kewanee and became Hardee's in 1972. Mrs. Cecil said she took the phone call from Rocky Mount changing the name from Sandy's to Hardee's. She retired from Hardee's in 1991.
"I'm proud of (the mural)," she said. "I thoroughly enjoyed working there. It was a fantastic place, and I was proud to be a part of it."
Retired Kewanee farmer George Pickering said he particularly enjoyed the three murals for agricultural firm Kewanee Machinery and Conveyor, for Kewanee Boiler and for the Cole Brothers Air Show.
"I went to school with John Cole at Wethersfield," he said. "I remember the air show."
Walldog project leader Ben Diaz said several Cole family members are still pilots, and pilot Larry Cole flew in from McLeod, Texas, where he is a flight instructor to see the mural. "He really liked it a lot," he noted. "Once I get a final picture, I'll send it to him."
Kewanee resident Terry Murphy took ice and water to the Walldogs artists from the time they first projected the mural designs on the walls on Wednesday night after dark until they finished on Sunday.
"It's the best thing that's happened to Kewanee," he said in front of the Kewanee Boiler mural. "I worked for them in the '80s as a crane operator, and my dad worked for them in the '60s. It gives a lot of insight on the history of Kewanee. A lot that people don't know about it. A lot of the younger people will wait 'til they're 50 'til they appreciate it."
Mr. Murphy said he himself knew about the Great Kewanee fire of April 13, 1942, that destroyed three downtown blocks, but he hadn't known about the S.S. Kewanee, named by the federal government for three Kewanee manufacturing giants' role in defense in World War I.
He noted the grandson of the man who set the record for husking 88 bushels of corn in 40 minutes was able to see the "corn huskers" mural. He said the champion himself died in March at age 98. "It would have been nice for him to see that," he noted. "There's still a lot of history out there about everybody's town just waiting to be put up. I liked this week better than Hog Days (Labor Day weekend). We've seen (Hog Days) forever, but this was a change."