JANESVILLE, Wis. — When Jessie Willyerd was a little girl riding in cars, she would imagine she was riding a horse.
Horses stuck with her, and last week Willyerd was painting horses on the side of the Fredendall Building, 37 S. Main St. in Janesville.
Not just any horses. Carousel horses. Willyerd and her fellow 2003 Craig High School graduate Tim Cahill were honoring a 30-year downtown business just around the corner, the second-hand shop Carousel Consignments.
Willyerd was thinking of other young girls who will notice her horses as their parents drive by the busy corner of Court and Main streets.
"It will give them something to imagine," she told The Janesville Gazette.
Willyerd hadn't talked to the folks at Carousel Consignments about the mural, though. Tears clouded the eyes of Carousel co-owner Joni Bozart when she heard about it last week.
"That just blows me away. That's just the nicest thing," Bozart said.
Bozart was so overwhelmed she left her shop to thank the artists. Husband and business partner Larry Bozart, meanwhile, commented wryly that the mural was on a neighboring building the Bozarts don't own.
The mural was one of five created during the Art Infusion 2020 mural project over the past week.
The new murals give the downtown a fresh look, and they combine older murals and ongoing efforts to turn the district into a tourist draw and point of community pride.
Willyerd also included a more subtle image of a raven in the mural, a nod to a place most Janesville artist know and love, Raven's Wish Art Gallery, located across the river a few blocks away.
"I think it's just about letting people know that artists are a part of the community, too," Willyerd said when asked if she was excited to be making a mark on her hometown.
"It's definitely a gratifying experience to make something that potentially will be here for a while," Cahill said.
The murals almost didn't happen.
The Art Infusion committee applied for grants for a mural fest, didn't get any and shelved the project, spokeswoman Nigella Ryan said.
Then came the coronavirus in late March. By May, committee members "thought it would be nice to have something positive and a reason to have people outside," Ryan said.
Local donors agreed, and it wasn't hard to raise $50,000, Ryan said. Some donated scaffolding and primer paint.
Finding walls for murals was harder. Some owners were bound by historical restoration agreements. Others were not sure a mural would be a good look for them.
Five walls were chosen, and about six artists applied for each of them, Ryan said. A committee picked a first and second choice for each wall, and the building owners had the option of picking one or the other.
Each mural has a story:
Jaime Brown and Karim Jabbari painted the mural on the back of the old post office, 201 Dodge St.
Brown, of Kenosha, said her art partner from Tunisia is world renowned, having made murals in Canada to Morocco, Bahrain, Australia, Russia and Malaysia.
Brown's design looks at first like a mishmash of geometric shapes. But she did her homework. The shapes reflect the city's heritage.
The triangles on the top left represent the city's forward thinking, the zigzag pattern the river, the strip along the right is a stylized head of wheat, a nod to local agriculture, she said.
The tube-like structures are fallen trees, recalling the lumber industry's role in the city's early development. The vertical stripes represent railroads. The large and small purple circles are the head and body of a woman who is looking downward at her work, symbolizing the home and families as the heartbeat of the city.
"I feel Janesville has a very family-friendly atmosphere and charm to it, and this is kind of a nod to that," Brown said.
Brown said those who stopped to chat about the piece touched her and Jabbari: "It was one of the friendliest cities we've ever worked with. Everyone was lovely, kind, generous and absolutely ideal."
By far the biggest mural is on the Prospect 101 building, 101 E. Milwaukee St. The artist is Jeff Henriquez, the New Jersey artist who painted the Black Hawk mural at 29 S. Main St. last year.
Henriquez's theme is diversity and women's history, said Christine Rebout of the Janesville Convention and Visitors Bureau.
On the south side of the Lark restaurant, 60 S. Main St., Milwaukee artist Stephanie Krellwitz painted a tree limb and added images of origami birds.
Krellwitz says she had no idea The Lark features dozens of origami cranes hanging in its window. Her inspiration was the 200 origami birds she made one August about seven years ago when, as a schoolteacher, she was dealing with back-to-school depression.
The rear of 215 W. Milwaukee St. is the home of David Mark Zimmerman's contribution, which features a whimsical assemblage of a dog, fish bones, a thigh bone, a wishbone and a trombone. He said the tentative title was "Midnight Snack."
Zimmerman, who goes by the artist name Bigshot Robot, is from Milwaukee. His inspiration is 1990s TV cartoons such as "Rocko's Modern Life."
Zimmerman was approached by some building owners last week to do another mural behind the 100 block of West Milwaukee Street. He said Saturday he would love to do it, but the weather could cancel that plan.
Building owners who didn't get involved this year might look forward to next year, when Ryan said another mural fest is planned.
Contracts call for the murals to be preserved for at least three years.
"That's the usual boilerplate for murals, but then they just end up staying indefinitely," Zimmerman said.
City of murals, anyone?