Police Department remembers past with new murals
Thomas Elmo Williams was nearly buried alive when a coal mine in Hiawatha, Utah, collapsed. He suffered serious injuries, he says, and had to undergo surgery to replace his knee and hip. It wasn’t until he was in the hospital rehabilitating that he met David Johnsen, the man who would teach him to paint.
"He looked at some of the sketches I had done of the miners and said if I could sketch then I could paint," Williams remembers.
The miner-turned-gallery owner and artist was commissioned by the Park City Public Art Board to depict the history of the town in six large murals now on permanent display in the lobby at the Park City Police Department, 2060 Park Ave.
Former Park City Police Chief Lloyd Evans and Det. Mary Ford led the effort to procure public art for the state-of-the-art police headquarters now about one year old. "I just love them," Ford said of the murals. "Having art makes a better work environment."
Williams, who created two other large murals for the dedication of the police building, won the commission from a pool of 20 artists from across the country. He started these murals Dec. 14 and spent about a week and a half on each, he says.
The Park City Council created the Public Art Board in 2003 and legislated that one percent of the total construction cost of municipal buildings be spent on artwork, according to Julie Hopkins, who sits on the board with six other residents. The Police Department building added about $68,000 to the coffers for public art and the murals cost about $40,000. The board can allocate the remaining money for any public art project in the city.
The board spends about $100,000 per year on projects such as the sound garden in City Park, the park bench and bike racks near the Racquet Club, sculptures on the Rail Trail and decorations for bus shelters.
Next week, the city plans to complete a city-funded art installation by adding three large metallic fish to an art installation behind Miners Hospital.
For now, the focus is on Williams. The oil-and-canvas mural panels he created range in subject matter from early miners to present-day bikers. One panel depicts nurses standing in front of the Miners Hospital. Another panel pictures a policeman on Main Street.
Williams, who moved to Utah to work in the mines, said he felt a special affinity for Park City’s history. He pored over archival photographs and read newspaper articles at the Park City Museum and Historical Society to prepare for the project. "As miners, this is where we came to ski," he said. "I’ve known that Park City has a sense of community. No matter how big it gets I’ll still see it as a tight-knit community.
The panels, saturated in a golden hue, are not photographic reproductions but rather collage-like compositions.
For Evans, who was born in Miners Hospital in 1953, the murals help reinforce the values and culture of Park City. "We wanted something historical and non-abstract with some emphasis on law enforcement," he said.
Cpt. Phil Kirk admired the murals Thursday as Williams and gallery co-owner David Johnsen affixed them to the brick walls at the station. Kirk spent hours sifting through historic photo to hang in the halls of the department. He said the murals go well with the historical theme officers wanted to create. "We wanted to show off our history," he said, pointing to a portrait of Marshall Sam Brown, one of Park City’s legendary officers.
The Park City Police aren’t alone is their desire to preserve and share history. Hopkins said the goal of much of the public art in town is to tell Park City’s unique story. "I think it’s what gives our town characters and soul," she said. "The way we try to capture our history through art sets us apart from other ski towns. I think what’s really neat is that the way that the City Council has embraced art."
The Public Art Board’s next project will likely be artwork for Swede Alley near Main Street, Hopkins said.
Thomas Williams and David Johnsen live in Helper, Utah, where they own Boxcar Gallery. For more information, call 472-3451 or visit BoxcarGallery.com.
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In an intriguing sidebar to the overall Park City Planning Commission talks about a proposed project at Park City Mountain Resort, the developer recently mentioned a future Winter Olympics in the context of the project.