Menomonee Falls — What was once a well-known eyesore in the heart of downtown Menomonee Falls has become something pretty beautiful. Known in village-speak as block six, property that formerly housed a residence has been repurposed into a green space now graced with the village's first mural.
Artfully crafted by Milwaukee artist Catherine Lottes, the Blue Heron Mural was unveiled July 22 on the exterior wall of Just Kiln' Time near Appleton Avenue and Main Street in Village Centre. It spans 12 by 20 inches, but Lottes said its symbolism is a lot bigger than that.
Inspired by a sighting of a great blue heron on a dusk walk along the Menomonee River Valley, Lottes embraced the attributes commonly associated with herons as she constructed the piece.
"It has an indomitable spirit that can't be overcome and stands for regeneration, which is kind of what Menomonee Falls is going through right now," said Lottes, who has been a professional artist for 35 years. "It's timeless in a way that it can speak back to what the area was before it became a village and where it is going in the future."
Revitalization and rebirth is certainly descriptive of Appleton Avenue as it runs through Village Centre, as a drive through the area looks a lot different from it used to. From the facade improvements to the buildings that now house Just Kiln' Time and Pink Lemonade to Colonial Plaza's restructuring to include Planet Fitness, a lot has changed in the last couple of years.
In an effort to keep the positive change going, Assistant Community Development Director and Economic Development Specialist Matt Dorner said the village wanted to kick-start the addition of artwork throughout the downtown area.
"We were thinking of how we could add some interest and create a sense of place by giving people who live here or are visiting something of additional interest in the downtown area," he said.
The $12,000 price tag for the project was paid for through other grants the village has received for facade work.
When it came to selecting an image, the village did receive a number of proposals earlier this year. But Village Centre Manager Barb Watters said the decision was an easy one.
"It really was love at first sight with this concept," she said. "(The Blue Heron Mural) most effectively fit the mold we were looking for, which is one we hope others will follow."
Lottes said she was honored when she got the green light to start production in May.
"It was really nice to have a project of this scale and be able to pick a theme that was near and dear to me," Lottes said. "To me it is second nature to do the best work you possibly can ... I really enjoyed working on this piece, and the perfectionist in me probably could have kept going, but it was time to let it fly on without me."
Two months later, the mural now graces the green space, which Watters said now needs a name. A "Name that Greenspace" contest has begun and will run through Aug. 31. In addition, Watters said plans are in the works for as many as eight additional murals throughout Village Centre. Lottes said she plans to sell smaller replicas of the mural with a portion of the proceeds going toward the additional murals.
In the meantime, a second mural has already popped up about a block down the road. It was coincidental that the mural by Megan McDonald at Peace Yoga Studio was completed at about the same time as the unveiling of the Blue Heron Mural.
"Every upgrade is something people notice," said Diane Sutrick, who owns and operates the yoga studio. "What's happened over at Colonial Plaza has definitely driven more traffic our way ... people notice improvements like we're seeing along Appleton Avenue, which ultimately makes us a place people want to come and visit."
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