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Mosaic in the making: Local artists come together for West Shore art project

by JEREMY WEBER
Daily Inter Lake | March 28, 2021 3:00 AM

The West Shore Art Initiative and the KALICO Art Center are teaming up to bring a little more color to the Flathead Valley with their Lakeside/Somers Mosaic Mural Project.

The idea of West Shore Art Initiative creator Dan Benesch, the finished 8-foot tall by 13-foot wide mural will comprise 416 individual panels that, when completed, will come together to form the swimming trout image seen in a painting by local artist Travis J. Sylvester.

The panels first will be displayed on the outside wall of the KALICO Art Center before being assembled into the final image at Lakeside Elementary School, where the mosaic will be displayed along with other murals sponsored by the West Shore Art Initiative.

According to Benesch, there is no set timeline for completion of the project.

‘If it takes two years to complete, that’s great. If it takes three years, that is also great,” he said. “There are no time constraints on the project. As far as I am concerned, the longer it takes, the better. That way, people can see the project as it evolves.”

According to Benesch, the idea for the West Shore Art Initiative began with a 2016 trip to Australia, when he and his wife visited the Tasmanian town of Sheffield. The small community of 1,500 people saved itself from ruin in 1986 by turning itself into a tourist attraction with dozens of murals painted on buildings all over town. Today, there are 60-plus murals, which draw more than 200,000 visitors each year.

“I thought to myself, small-town Australia to small-town Montana, that’s not that big of a leap,” Benesch recalled. “That’s how the idea for the art initiative got started. The murals in Sheffield really looked sharp and it gave that town quite a personality. I figured there was no reason why we couldn’t do that here.”

Benesch said his idea was well-received in Lakeside and Somers, but locals wanted to see the murals on a smaller scale than that seen in Sheffield. Local artists created murals on 4-by-8 and 4-by-13 foot panels that have so far been displayed at Lakeside Elementary School as well as the post offices in Lakeside and Somers. Benech puts the murals on display each spring and takes them down in the fall to protect them from winter weather.

“We want to give the town a little bit more pizzazz, but not really create an identity with the murals and artwork,” Benesch said. “That’s our plan anyway.”

WHEN BENESCH brought the idea for the trout mosaic to KALICO Art Center’s Program Director Jamina Watstein, she was more than happy to help. Since the project began last fall, the public has been able to paint the 6-by-6 tiles of the mosaic at the art center, which also provides take-home kits for artists who prefer to work in the comfort of their own homes.

According to Watstein, the public response to the project has been encouraging.

“This project has been very well-received by the community,” she said. “With the pandemic and the way that everyone has been shut in, it kind of came at a perfect time to provide people with a creative outlet they can appreciate and enjoy.”

The project is open to all ages and skill levels, with tiles already completed by elementary school students to professional artists.

While recreating the source image of a swimming trout is the goal, Watstein encourages artists to get creative with their tiles, so long as they fit within the predetermined themes of natural beauty, local history, kids having fun, everyday Montana life and abstract art.

“We are not looking for a mirror image of the original painting,” she said. “Each artist creates their own composition that is inspired by the colors inside the section they have selected.”

What was originally planned as a three-year project could easily be finished by the end of the year, if community response continues at the current rate.

“I’m not an artist myself. I don’t think that I could draw a straight line if asked to. I just brought the idea forward and left it to the artists to do their thing,” Benesch said. “I had no idea the mosaic idea would catch on this quickly.”

More information on the mosaic project can be found online at www.kalicoartcenter.com and those interested in the West Shore Art Initiative can reach Dan Benesch at 406-871-5548.

Reporter Jeremy Weber may be reached at 758-4446 or jweber@dailyinterlake.com

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The painting "Tranquility" by Travis J. Sylvester will serve as the base image for the Lakeside/Somers Mosaic Mural Project.

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Murals adorn the outside of Lakeside Elementary School as part of the West Shore Art Initiative. (Photo courtesy of Dan Benesch)

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The West Shore Art Initiative has helped place murals by several artists in Lakeside and Somers. (Photo courtesy of Dan Benesch)

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The West Shore Art Initiative has helped place murals by several artists in Lakeside and Somers. (Photo courtesy of Dan Benesch)

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The KALICO Art Center welcomes artists of all ages and skill levels to paint a tile for the Lakeside/Somers Mosaic Mural Project. (Jeremy Weber/Daily Inter Lake)

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Just a few of the 416 tiles of the Lakeside/Somers Mosaic Mural Project. (Jeremy Weber/Daily Inter Lake)

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One of the 416 tiles that will be pieced together to form the final image of the Lakeside/Somers Mosaic Mural Project. (Jeremy Weber/Daily Inter Lake)

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The tiles that will comprise the Lakeside/Somers Mosaic Mural Project include a variety of themes. (Jeremy Weber/Daily Inter Lake)