One of the reasons Durango artist Parker Ledford finds power in art is because, in art, words are not needed to convey thoughts, feelings or ideas. The power of wordless communication can be seen, and felt, in Ledford’s new mural depicting a howling wolf on the North Main Laundry building.
Ledford’s mural is one of a pair that have recently been painted on both the north and south sides of the building, 2980 Main Ave. in Durango.
The murals are part of a statewide initiative supported by the Rocky Mountain Wolf Project, which received funding from the Sacharuna Foundation for art projects related to wolves, said Valerie Rose, the arts coordinator for the Rocky Mountain Wolf Project.
While the Rocky Mountain Wolf Project might get confused for The Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund, the two organizations are different. The Rocky Mountain Wolf Project is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization whose mission, according to its website, is to “improve public understanding of gray wolf behavior, ecology and options for re-establishing the species in Colorado.” The Rocky Mountain Wolf Action fund, on the other hand, is the political entity supporting the wolf reintroduction measure on Colorado ballots this November.
Rose has been organizing the statewide art initiative, called “Restore the Howl,” since August. The goal of the initiative is to create public pieces of art that feature wolves and help start conversations between people about wolves.
In August, Rose and the Wolf Project asked artists to submit proposals for the initiative. A number of proposals were submitted and 21 artists were selected to create art across the state. The art will be installed and created in the month of October, and the project will feature six large murals, three smaller murals, mixed media, as well as some sculptures.
Durango was chosen for a large and small mural because of its growing appreciation for public art, Rose said. Additionally, the Rocky Mountain Wolf Project wanted to identify communities where artwork would instigate conversation between residents.
“Durango probably has mixed feelings as far as wolves go,” Rose said. “The murals in Durango were a good area as far as engaging people in having conversations about the gray wolf species.”
Once Rose identified Durango as a good location for murals, she worked with a local organization, The Hive, to find a building that would be willing to house the murals. Then, she sought approval from the city.
Efforts to reach the owner of the building were unsuccessful.
Lia Campbell, a planner with the city’s Community Development Department, wrote in an email to The Durango Herald that the applicants went through the usual design review process to ensure nothing in the mural is offensive or could be interpreted as an advertisement.
“We try to encourage murals on north Main to add character and liveliness to the district as it continues to grow and develop,” she said. “The purpose of these particular murals, according to the Rocky Mountain Wolf Project, is to provide education and engagement about gray wolves, as they were once native to Colorado.”
Rose echoed that sentiment.
“Our message is not to tell people to vote. We use art as a tool to engage people in conversations,” she said. “I think people are perfectly capable of making their decisions. It’s more about let’s talk more about this animal, let’s talk more about the science behind this decision, let’s talk about the history of wolves in Colorado.”
Rose acknowledged the murals are being installed amid the election, but said the initiative is separate from the political choice that voters face this November. Rose said the hope is to inspire people to learn more about wolves.
The north-facing mural, the large mural, was painted by Ledford and can be seen while driving south on Main Avenue. He tried to incorporate the colors of the Colorado flag into the mural, and the mountains are supposed to be the Needles.
Ledford also used a common Southwest Native American pattern to show the wolves are indigenous to Colorado.
The mural took Ledford nine days, and besides help from Mountain Middle School students filling in the mountains, Ledford completed it himself. Ledford said while working on the mural, he received positive feedback from passersby. He even noted that some residents who may be personally against the wolf ballot measure appreciated the art.
“The beauty of the art overpowers whatever conflict they may be feeling,” Ledford said.
The south-facing mural, the small mural, was painted by Ashley Church. Church said she has always felt a connection with wolves. As a child, she remembers learning about the animals through picture books and she later studied wolf reintroduction in college.
Central to her mural is the depiction of a mother with her pup to portray wolves in a family and to show that wolves can be gentle creatures, Church said.
In Church’s piece, Rose sees an emphasis on the environment.
“I think it speaks more to the role that wolves play in their ecosystem,” Rose said. “You can see in her piece the wolves and the natural environment.”
For Church, the purpose of her mural is two-fold: First, she hopes to show that humans can and should have a relationship with wolves. Second, she hopes to “inspire other young artists to keep making art.”