Anyone heading to Forest Park High School from 14th Street will be met by a mural celebrating a flower-smelling bull named Ferdinand.
Renowned Washington DC artist/muralist Lisa Marie Thalhammer is at work on the homage to Ferdinand the Bull from the 1936 children’s book by American author Munro Leaf. In what some view as a celebration of diversity and individuality, the popular tale tells about the biggest and strongest bull that would rather smell flowers than fight matadores.
Besides the Ferdinand the Bull at the American Legion, the town has little connection to the well-known story of the strong but docile bull who is mistaken for being ferocious after he reacts to being stung by a bee. So, how did it come to be the subject for a mural being created on the north side of the Antique Emporium at 1440 Main Street?
Thalhammer happens to be a distant cousin of Keith Fritz, the owner of Keith Fritz Fine Furniture which is located in the building at 1440 Main Street. The two met at a family reunion in Siberia in the early 2000s and struck up a friendship based on their mutual love for art.
Originally from St. Louis, Thalhammer ended up in Washington DC living with Fritz after a disastrous attempt to move to New York City to pursue her art career.
She continued to work on painting and teaching art until 2009 when she received a grant from the DC Commission of Arts and Humanities to create a public art piece.
Inspired by the kids in her neighborhood to bring an art piece out into the public, she decided to paint a mural in her DC neighborhood.
“As an artist, it is really my job to get the art to where people can see it,” she explained. “A lot of the kids or community members are not going to go into a gallery to see the art, so I decided to create a mural.”
When the piece title Boxer Girl was finished, it created a stir. The debate about the mural raged for nearly two months with some insisting it would invite more crime to the neighborhood. However, when a police officer reported crime in the area had dropped 55 percent in the time since the mural was completed, the fervor died down.
Thalhammer went on to create several murals in DC and developed a following for her art based on female empowerment. She has been featured in several publications including The Washington Post and The U.S. News and World Report. She has even completed a mural in Vienna, Austria.
Thalhammer and Fritz began talking about a mural for the plain block wall of his business about five years ago. Neither could come up with a theme that fit the town as well as their own tastes.
Then in 2015, the two learned that Rock Emmert and his partner, Kris Lasher, were working on a theater project for the Ferdinand Folk Fest that was based on Ferdinand the Bull.
Thalhammer had never read the story, but when she did, she fell in love with it.
“I was super-inspired by the story. It’s a beautiful story about a bull that is just a little different than the other bulls,” she said. “He wants to live his own life and do this kinda pacifist thing. I was just really inspired by this story that is about being true to yourself.”
The two decided the story was perfect for the mural. Thalhammer created a sketch of the bull and sought out some feedback from community members. Through that, the final vision incorporating the entire wall took shape.
For Fritz, the mural is an extension of his love for art and place creation. “I consider myself as someone who helps a lot of artists do what they love doing,” he said. “I am just thrilled Lisa was willing to come do this here.”
Fritz said he hopes this inspires others to incorporate murals into their buildings.
The new mural cost about $10,000 with Fritz shouldering $5,000 in addition to a $1,500 grant from the Dubois County Community Foundation. Mueller True Value donated painting supplies and scaffolding while Ferdinand Farmers Insurance took care of the necessary insurance for the job.
With a gap of about $3,500 remaining, Fritz and Lisa Marie are still seeking donations from the public. Checks made out to the Town of Ferdinand (include “mural” in the note) can be dropped off at the town hall anytime or mailed to 2065 Main Street, Ferdinand, IN 47532.
Thalhammer will be working on the mural through the week and if the weather is favorable, could finish it in December.
“A good mural becomes a landmark, it becomes an attraction,” Fritz said. “How often do you see a bull smelling flowers and it’s 20 feet tall.”