A murals project this summer in Paris, Illinois, celebrates that appeal.
Forty-five percent of Americans say they’d prefer living in a small town or rural area, according to a CBS News poll released last week. Country living far outpolled life in a city (25%) or the suburbs (28%).
The effort includes a 33-foot-tall image — still in progress — of native son and country music star Brett Eldredge on the side of the Goodwill building downtown, as well as two others that involved local school kids working alongside Paris Mayo Middle school art teacher and artist Millie Arp. All three are eye-catching.
The group commissioned Arp and prolific Terre Haute muralist Becky Hochhalter to paint the colorful scenes on brick buildings around the town square. Arp and a team of students completed murals of an apple tree and a flower-rimmed movie quotation in late July and early August. Hochhalter continues working on the larger Eldredge mural, coping with the intense heat and humidity through the past week.
“We’re trying to get people excited about Paris and get them to come here,” said Callie Keys, a lifelong resident and vice president of the Paris Improvement Organization (or PIO).
The PIO is hosting a “Celebration of Our Mural Makers” from 2 to 6 p.m. Saturday, with food trucks, music and a farmers market. Folks attending can meet Hochhalter, Arp and some of the youngsters who participated.
Hochhalter’s mural features a lyrical passage from Eldredge’s song “Paris, Illinois” and harkens back to the days when the 35-year-old singer was growing up there. Eldredge’s 2020 “Sunday Drive” album included the song, which he cowrote with Grammy-winning songwriters Ian Fitchuk and Daniel Tashian. Eldredge filmed an accompanying video at memorable Paris locations from his childhood. The lyric depicted on the mural reads, “To be there in the morning would fill my heart with joy; see the courthouse, feel the sunshine in Paris, IL.”
A two-story-plus likeness of Eldredge overlooks those words and towers over the east side of Main Street.
“It makes me think of my hometown [Terre Haute]. Anyone who’s from a small town, it means a lot to them,” Hochhalter said Wednesday afternoon, standing beside Eldredge’s mural feet. Eldredge and his family appreciate the mural and Paris, too. Eldredge has accumulated five No. 1 hit songs on the Billboard Country Airplay chart, the 2014 Country Music Association New Artist of the Year award, seven platinum-certified singles, two gold singles and two gold albums, and now lives in Nashville. Still, Paris remains large in his thoughts, as the song and video of the same name attest.
Mark Bennett: 33-foot-tall singer, flowers, apple trees symbolize Paris’ small-town appeal
Tribune-Star/Mark BennettPast meets present: Young artists painted this mural on the side of a building this summer in downtown Paris, Ill. It features a line from the 1943 movie “Casablanca,” uttered by Humphrey Bogart’s character Rick Blaine to his old flame Ilsa, played by Ingrid Bergman. “He is very appreciative of the continued support,” Chris Eldredge, his father said Thursday. Brett visited Paris last week on the way to a show in Peoria, and glimpsed the mural’s early stages. He particularly noticed its height, his dad explained. Brett’s parents also live in Tennessee now, but well know the Paris community’s role in their son’s career.
“All of us realize that it was the support of our community that gave him the confidence to embark on the professional journey he is on. It’s such an honor for all of us to see him celebrated in this way,” Chris Eldredge said of the mural. “Even though we live in Nashville, we are so thankful to always be able to call Paris home.” The likeness of Eldredge in Hochhalter’s mural comes from photos taken of him specifically for the artwork. It’s painted on the south exterior wall of the Goodwill building. Goodwill has closed the Paris store, Wabash Valley Goodwill Industries president and CEO Meredith said, but it still owns the building and approves of the mural. It will include Goodwill’s smiling-G logo.
The outline of Eldredge makes this mural the tallest of Hochhalter’s career, by one foot. Her 32-foot-tall mural celebrating the MyPath Trail System adorns the Spencer Coffee House in Owen County. She now has murals in 10 different cities, including six projects this year. One upcoming soon will be Hochhalter’s largest, an “extremely detailed and interesting” mural at a downtown Terre Haute location she couldn’t yet reveal. A block north of her Eldredge design is a mural completed a couple weeks ago by teacher-artist Millie Arp and some Paris kids on the south wall of Shooters bar. It shows beams of two shades of orange shining toward flowers native to Illinois and the Midwest, with a quotation from the classic 1943 movie “Casablanca” — “We’ll always have Paris.” Humphrey Bogart’s character uttered that line to Ingrid Bergman’s character. Bogie was referring to the French city, but the sentiment applies to Paris, Ill., population 8,300.
“I just wanted something positive behind it,” Arp said of the choice. On the west side of the square is their mural showing an apple-picking scene, with a tree, wheel barrow and a swing. “It was a lot of fun,” Arp said. She’s anxious to do three more murals for the PIO next year, too.