July 25, 2006

On Media: Mural, mural: Who deserves a spot on the wall?

When Bud Hillerich’s image — all 1,750 square feet — went up on the east side of the Heyburn Building at Fourth and Broadway just this week, he became the 11th Louisvillian so honored. The founder of Louisville Slugger was a natural choice, and his 1944 photo shows a hard-working man, sawdust on his shirt from a bat he’d just turned on a lathe.

By now most folks around here know about these murals. They’re all biggie-size billboards, a reminder to residents and visitors of the city’s heritage and what Louisville has given to the world. There’s Muhammad Ali, the first and foremost, grinning at traffic on I-64. Glance to your right on southbound I-65, and Colonel Sanders and Diane Sawyer are as much a part of the cityscape as the Humana Building.

The murals have achieved landmark status. I like to tell friends going down Bardstown Road in the Highlands that they’ve missed Broadway if they see the Bob Edwards mural. Heading west on Broadway, better to tell someone to turn at Pat Day than to look for Second Street.

The list of the first 11 icons is varied. Four are famous for athletic feats (Ali, Pee Wee Reese, Mary T. Meagher, Day). Three work in media (Sawyer, Edwards, sculptor Ed Hamilton). There’s a business icon (Sanders) and a U.S. Supreme Court judge (Louis Brandeis). One honors the Kentucky Derby. Three are deceased. Each has brought some recognition to Louisville, but the variety of chosen heroes is intriguing.

To get a space, an icon needs a significant financial supporter, an available wall, a good photograph, zoning approval and a little financial support. And Mike Sheehy’s phone number.

Sheehy is president of the Greater Louisville Pride Foundation, which coordinates the mural program and meets every month. He takes the calls suggesting new murals. Lots of calls. The original idea, to honor sports figures, has given way to media and business figures, and the future could bring more variety.

There are obvious choices on Sheehy’s short list: Darrell Griffith, Paul Hornung and Phil Simms are revered sports icons who’ve parlayed on-field fame into successful careers off the field.

Honoring sports figures is a good idea, but wouldn’t it be more interesting, albeit controversial, to see politicians and business leaders in a big picture? Would a McConnell mural create a stir? Mayor Jer? John Schnatter? David Jones? How many folks would get worked up over Bruce Lunsford?
Sheehy has heard them all. “The criteria is, have they gone beyond Louisville to the outside world? Then we’ve got to find a wall we can work with,” he said.

Sheehy said the next mural could come to the Fairgrounds, where space has been set aside for Tori Murden McClure, who put the city on the map by rowing across the Atlantic. Simms, the former NFL quarterback from Southern High School, is likely to introduce the mural project to the South End, somewhere near his high school. The group is seeking a wall in New Albany to honor golf’s Fuzzy Zoeller.

There’s a significant contingent who believe the whole program is a fraud if a person like Hunter S. Thompson can’t make it. He’s on the list, Sheehy said, but so far no one with the requisite funds has championed the good doctor’s cause. (Calling Johnny Depp.)

The most asked about icon, Sheehy says, is Denny Crum, but he also gets suggestions for less prominent folks like jug band pioneer Earl McDonald, author Sue Grafton and magician Lance Burton.

While the murals could have commercial value, it’s reassuring that the project has not been contaminated, really, with commercialism. Sure, it takes about $20,000 to get each mural up — but the space is donated by building owners, and the high-tech vinyl images are provided at cost by USA Image Technologies, the company owned by Tyler Allen (also the leader of the 8664 movement). Sheehy’s outdoor company, CBS Outdoor, handles the complex task of installation.

You might cry fowl on that one — isn’t the Colonel really a big ad for Kentucky Fried Chicken? Isn’t Hillerich’s image a marketing boon to the Slugger Museum? Isn’t the Derby mural, the only one honoring an event (and in color, to boot), more of an ad for Churchill?

Sheehy acknowledges a few critics on that score, but since there’s only a very small logo on the image, he said it’s not really been an issue.
Yet.

Contact the writer at
leo@leoweekly.com