Beautifying a Bridge: Chad Starling’s New Mural for Fairfield

Artist’s rendering of the proposed mural for the 2nd St. underpass in Fairfield (©2022 Starling Enterprises Inc.)

Fairfield may soon have a new public art piece. Local artist Chad Starling has proposed a mural project to beautify the railroad underpass on 2nd Street. Working with the Fairfield Volunteer Center, Starling presented his design in November to the Fairfield City Council, which is currently reviewing the project.

The mural, centered around the phrase “Bloom and Grow,” will cover the concrete walls of the railroad underpass with swooping billows of muted colors. Starling says he started out working in a color palette that didn’t seem quite right for the project, until his wife Madeline advised him to choose “Fairfield colors.” He came up with a subtle palette that references the local ecosystem: “the golden in the weeds, the greens in the grasses, the blues in the sky, the white in the snow, with a salmon pink bringing it all together.”

As a work of public art involving city streets and railroad property, the project requires working with the city government, the railroad, and the Iowa Department of Transportation—a complicated organizational task. Starling says Shanaz Kreider, Chair of the Volunteer Center, has been instrumental in keeping the ball rolling.

A close-up of the proposed design

If all goes well, Starling will start the mural in the spring, and he expects it to take three to five months to finish— weather permitting—with a small crew helping him. Initially, the underpass will be power washed and treated with a concrete sealant. Then the mural will be painted in sections at times approved by the Iowa Department of Transportation.

Kreider is excited about bringing this visual enhancement to the neighborhood. “The area businesses and the residents will have a beautiful sight to look at, in addition to the initial attention and the publicity that will be given to that segment of the town,” she says. The Volunteer Center plans to work with the Fairfield Beautification Committee and neighborhood businesses to establish a simple, easy-to-maintain landscape around the mural bases, creating an environment “that will complement the mural artwork.”

Urban designers have long recognized the value that public art has in bringing the community together, encouraging community engagement, and enhancing the quality of life. Kreider hopes this project will start a trend of “practical projects to put inviting faces on some of the other neighborhoods in Fairfield.”

Starling would like to see a renaissance of public art projects. “There’s so much deep, genuine talent here,” he says. And he would like to see these projects involve more of the community—including elementary and high school students. “I remember being young and having a few opportunities to work with some professional artists. That really made an impact.”

Starling’s work combines text and abstract shapes to create stunning combinations of form and language. The text is often so tiny or so artfully part of the pattern that viewers are not initially aware of the words. Starling really enjoys that element of surprise. “I like the reaction when I watch people discover that there’s words in the art.”

He loves using his art to encourage people to look more deeply at their environment, because too often, he says, “We just look at the surface of things. But once we start looking closer, taking the time to pause and look, there’s a process of discovery.”

Starling is thankful for the opportunity the City Council and Mayor Connie Boyer have given him, and he looks forward to creating public art that will add to the community experience. “We’ve got a small but really precious community here. It’s a neat little pod of a lot of different cultures.”