The new Eldredge mural is well on its way to being completed. After a few days of rainy weather when they could not work, the Walldogs are intensifying their efforts to get it accomplished.

Beginning at dusk on Saturday, June 26—in the middle of Belvidere’s Heritage Days and taking at least a week to complete—a dozen of the nation’s most talented designers and painters began projecting a re-imagined version of a mural that no longer exists.

Flashback to 1997 and a chance meeting on the street with Jack Wolf, (now) retired car dealer and community developer: during Belvidere’s first mural festival, Mr. Wolf took interest in the paint study that designer Mark Oatis had on site for his team to use as a reference. He asked me, Jay Allen, to introduce him to the artist as I was the project coordinator for The Walldogs mural project there.

I did so and they shook hands. Jack asked Mark, “How much?” and Mark looked down at the paint study to notice the price of the car was $750 in the faux advertisement he had imagined and created for the car once built in Belvidere at the National Sewing Machine Co. Jack pulled out his checkbook right there—and the painting still hangs today on the back wall of the Steam Plant Restaurant.

Now, let’s zoom ahead to 2010. A crack, unseen and invisible from the ground when selecting walls, widened dramatically and eventually led to the removal of the masonry coating applied to wire lath over the original brick wall. The Eldredge was lost in a pile of rubble underneath the wall. A sad day for Belvidere.

Flash forward again to 2021 when those dozen people convene to paint Mark’s new design on the length and surface of the 30 foot wall in downtown Belvidere on the south side of O’Brien’s Pharmacy, 216 S. State St. Easily one of the most visible of mural locations in Belvidere.

The reason we were there was to honor Jack Wolf’s call to resurrect that mural and honor his family’s automobile heritage by painting a re-imagined mural honoring the Eldredge on the site of his boyhood home—and featuring the face of his father driving the 1904 Eldredge Runabout (our decision; Jack would never ask such a personal thing).

Now lets get serious about the level of talent who will join this joyful exercise in honoring Jack’s desires to gift one more Public Art project to the community.

First Mark Oatis, Las Vegas, the mural designer in 1997 and again in 2021:

• From Mark’s bio at YESCO, the 100-year-old sign company that lights Las Vegas and cities across America: Mark Oatis has 45 years of experience in the sign industry, including sign design, sign painting, billboard painting, mural painting, and electrical design, which has been a central element in many design assignments throughout his career.

As a contract designer and artist he has been enlisted to work as a creator of themed graphics on five Disney projects, including Tokyo DisneySea, Hong Kong Disneyland, and Disney Shanghai. Mark is the recipient of over 60 international awards for excellence in sign design, is still writing articles for trade publications, and his work has been featured in films, books, magazines, and trade publications worldwide. He is currently the Creative Director at YESCO in Las Vegas.

He fails to mention that he led design projects on the Bellagio, Paris, Mandalay Bay, and other casinos around Las Vegas (and the country) until YESCO wisely raised the ante and hired him…

Not only that, but he and another of our artists, Noel Weber, helped create The Letterheads sign painting movement which created a renaissance in the sign industry starting in the mid 1970s. It was out of that movement that The Walldogs was created.

• Noel B. Weber, Boise, Idaho: Born 1948, graduated from Chicago’s Institute of Lettering and Design in 1971, and began his apprenticeship at Diamond Outdoor in Des Plaines, Ill. in 1973, Noel moved to Denver and became a seminal influence on the Letterheads movement as one of the group’s original members.

In the 1980s Noel founded Classic Design Studio, an award-winning sign shop in Boise, Idaho. Noel’s work at Classic has been featured repeatedly in Signs of the Times, Sign Craft, Sign Business, and Letterheads Magazine. His designs have also been printed in recent editions of The Speedball Textbook. Noel’s glass-gilded art is part of the permanent collection at the American Sign Museum in Cincinnati. In 2018, Preservation Idaho awarded Noel the Scott Chandler Award for Excellence in Craftsmanship.

(I’ll mention it here because he wouldn’t – but Noel’s clients have included Kevin Costner, Bruce Willis, Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top, and dozens more celebrities, projects for Disney, the Hearst Castle in California…)

• William F. (Bill) Hueg III, (Colorado and Minnesota): Amazingly talented across many disciplines, Bill is a mentor to even the most talented of The Walldogs. A native of St. Paul, Minn., now living in both Colorado and Minnesota, Bill’s talents began as a billboard painter doing large-format paintings on location and in-studio. His artwork is found in the casinos of Las Vegas and on the walls of towns and inside museums all around the country.

Sculpture, murals, fine art painting, graphic and architectural design, this man is filled with talent that is inspired by the famous artists whose lives he studies. It is my good fortune to have been friends with him for 20 years now—having worked together on a number of non-Walldog mural projects as well. His focus now is split between painting and sculpting, and he ‘unretired’ to participate in this project with his longtime counterparts and be the ‘color man’ for the project. He is the familiar to Belvidere, having last re-created “The Millenium Mural’ in 2014, and was the artist whose work is featured in the Grand Lobby of the Nicholas Observatory; telling the visual story of the Rockford Park District in a 145 foot long painting.

• Anat Ronen, Houston, Texas: Anat was born in Israel and is now based in Houston, Texas. For the last 12 years she is a world-class muralist and street art painter whose work is highly sought after. She has completed projects for large corporations such as Google, Amazon, numerous airports around the country – even her own gallery shows. Anat has led mural projects for The Walldogs in four towns (with more to come) and her skill at design coupled with her legendary speed with a brush will be on display once again. She has traveled the globe working on projects that seek those painting skills out. She has three murals currently in Belvidere: Jeanne Gang, Pettit Chapel, and the Belvidere Park District, and this team effort will highlight her amazing pictorial skills once again.

Anat is a self-taught artist, focusing on murals and street painting. Her professional artistic phase started in 2009. Anat paints with brushes, using latex (house paint) and acrylics. On a smaller scale, Anat draws, illustrates, and paints in different mediums.

More than 400 murals under her belt in the last five years, she paints mostly throughout the vast Houston area, including public spaces like interstate highways, bridges, buildings, churches, schools, and more. Her work is shown at museums and select shows, such as her mural “if only” that was a part of the exhibit “Call it Street Art, Call it Fine Art, Call it what you want” at the Station Museum of Contemporary Art in 2013, her series “Ageism” at he “One Degree of Separation” pop-up show in Houston in 2014, and “Outcast” which was selected as a finalist for the 2014 Hunting prize.

• Nancy Bennett, Centreville, Iowa: Founder of The Walldogs. Nancy B. Bennett is an entrepreneur that has more than 30 years of experience in business, contracting, design, public art, and project management. She is the founder of the following entities:

-Dannco, Inc.: 1979 to present – A graphics and sporting goods business that serves clients in a two-state area and sells globally on the Internet. Nancy has taken this company from a home-based graphics business to a multi-million dollar professionally managed firm.

-Walldog Movement: 1993 to present – This group is made up of more than 500 talented and skilled artists from around the globe. The group’s goal is to improve a community’s appeal and promote tourism by designing and producing public art. This group was founded by Nancy in 1993 when she hosted the first Walldog event in Allerton, Iowa.

-Nancy B. Bennett Design Group, LLC: 2013 to present. This business offers programs, products, and services for new construction and existing or historic sites in the following areas: signage, murals, sculpture, installation, lighting, landscaping, masonry, and other relevant products and services.

-Walldog Public Art: 2013 to present – A 501C3 established to bring joy to communities through art and education.

-Notable Commissions:

Michael Jackson: Santa Barbara, Cal. – Designer and creator of custom graphics for a narrow gauge amusement park train. This artwork included extensive gold leaf, scrollwork, lettering, and thirteen custom, hand-painted pictorials from the album “Dangerous.” The artwork was executed over a four-month period on the narrow-gauge locomotive, tender, and two passenger cars for Michael’s ‘Neverland’ amusement park at Neverland Ranch.

– Eddy’s Bread: Helena Montana – Led and coordinated an artist team for the respectful rehabilitation of an advertising mural on an historic five-story building in downtown.

– American Sign Museum Murals: Led and coordinated six artist teams (several artists in each team) to create six permanent murals for the museum’s Cincinnati, Ohio outdoor display. Each mural averaged 200 square feet in size and represented themes from the historic Washington Grounds district.

– Heineken Brewery Mural: Led an international team of 25 artists to create a sixty-foot interior mural for the Heineken Visitor Canter in Amsterdam, Holland. This mural is in the long hallway where visitors wait in line for access to the Brewery Museum and is seen by thousands of international visitors each day. 

– Bull Durham Sign Rehabilitation, Grand Island, Nebraska: Led an artist team for the respectful rehabilitation of a ghost sign, recreated a Bull Durham bull and Eat Beef mural. This project won the Main Street Nebraska 2018 Award.

– Palmquist Ghost Sign Rehabilitation: Helena, Montana: Led an artist team for the respectful rehabilitation of a ghost sign. The process called for matching paint and infilling missing information to look as if it had been on the wall for 50 years. This project won the Helena, Montana Historic Preservation Award in 2018.

• Alicia Rheal, Madison, Wis.: Alicia Rheal, a native of New York, has been painting professionally since 1986 when she created her company Rheal Imagination. At the start, the company specialized in painting custom designs on clothing until 1989 when Alicia started painting backdrops and sets for opera, ballet, television, and theater. Since then, Alicia has continued to work as a scenic artist for theater and has moved into the world of Custom Murals and Collaborative Art.

In Wisconsin, she has designed and painted murals for homeowners and businesses, including the Prairie Bookshop in Mt. Horeb, the Iowa County Chamber of Commerce, the Cross Plains Public Library, and EPIC Systems Corporation in Verona. Alicia has also initiated and led many community art projects, including ones for the Walls of Wittenberg, Grandview, and the PAC Foundation, and Folklore Village. She has been a member of The Walldogs for 10 years.

• Jay Allen: Rockford, Ill.: Jay Robert Allen is the owner and president of ShawCraft Sign Co. Inc. in Machesney Park. In the sign business since 1983, he and his company have been the recipients of numerous international awards for design excellence in the art of sign making and fine art murals. Jay is also a published author, seminar instructor, public speaker, and past contributing writer for the former SignBusiness (now Sign & Digital Graphics) magazine. Allen’s large format Public Art murals grace the walls of various communities throughout the country. Since 1999, he and his fellow artisans have completed 50 murals across eight states – and on internationally.

Mr. Allen was the co-chair and driving force behind the International Letterheads ‘Walldog Rendezvous’ held in Belvidere in June of 1997—just the third ‘Walldog’ meet ever held. The festival attracted 350 artists from all over the world to assist in the painting of 6000 square feet of murals (or 10 different walls) in the downtown business district, all in a brief span of just 72 hours. 

The festival won the 1997 Governor’s Art Award for Community from the Illinois Arts Council and First Place in the State of Illinois Department of Tourism/Citywide Promotion division in 1997. In 2008. Belvidere was declared an Arts Friendly Community by the Illinois Arts Alliance and the Illinois Municipal League. The mural project continues today and is regularly highlighted in various publications and newspapers throughout the state and country.

Other notable achievements for Jay Allen are:

1998: Keynote speaker-Canadian International Letterheads convention, Banff, Alberta, Canada.

1998: Keynote speaker-25th International Letterheads Convention, Boise, Idaho.

2000: Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels by then Governor Paul Patton.

2009: Distinguished Citizen Award from the Belvidere Area Chamber of Commerce

2009: Illinois Humanities Council Studs Terkel Humanities Service Award.

2014: Lincoln Awards Nominee-Illinois Dept. of Tourism.

2016: Authored and released first book, “The Walldogs”.

2019: Design and painting of an historic mural in Mount Barker, Western Australia.

We have a few more talented artists from across the country assisting.

As you might imagine, the art is stunning and the work will be a joy to paint. The location of the Eldredge mural is at one of the most visible intersections and will be a landmark for years to come.

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