The largest piece of public art in Columbus is beginning to take shape along Ninth Street in the Columbus Historic District.
Artist Chris Johnson is painting a five-story mural on this side of Heritage Tower, a building that is between First Avenue and Broadway along Ninth Street.
If the four-story woman looks familiar, she should.
It is “Mrs. Columbus” from the fountain at Lenora Sarling Memorial Park along Wynnton Road. That sculpture was erected 90 years ago and is one of the signature pieces in the Fountain City. Sarling was the leader of the local women’s suffrage movement in the early 1900s. She died in an automobile accident in 1928 and her family had the park built a year later.
It caught Johnson’s eye when he was asked to create a piece that points to the city’s heritage.
“Well, it was very eye-catching to me,” he said. “It softens the hard lines of this building. I have learned a little about it whenever I was working with it about how it’s a Depression-era. It is kind of inspiring to me and it was the heritage of Columbus. Maybe it’s a time they can learn a little bit more about the statue.”
According to Historic Columbus, Sarling was a champion of the women’s suffrage movement at the turn of the last century. The fountain, made of Carrara marble, was put up after she died in an automobile accident.
Johnson is an art professor at Andrew College. This is his 20th mural, and most of them can be found around Cuthbert. But he has a mural inside the Columbus Public Library on Macon Road.
Still, this is far and away the largest project he has tackled. The west side of the building he is working on is 3,500 square feet.
Building co-owner Ernie Smallman was looking for away to attract people to the building. He was planning to repaint it any way, so the mural became an attractive option.
“I was having a little creative conflict with this building, trying to figure out what is the right thing to do to draw attention to it,” Smallman said. “And we were going to repaint it and we were looking at a big white canvas. Why not turn a negative into a positive and put a giant mural and attract people here?”
Because the building is on the south side of Ninth Street and not in the downtown Business District, Smallman did not have to seek approval from the Uptown Facade Board, which has approved the previous murals downtown.
Heritage Towers falls in the Columbus Historic District, which does not regulate paint color or schemes.
Johnson hopes to complete the commissioned work by the end of the week.
Columbus Mayor Skip Henderson shared a photo of the mural on his official Facebook page over the weekend. The mayor’s post read, “Keep your eyes on the Heritage Building downtown #WeDoAmazing.”