The desirability of adding attractive murals to Huntington’s floodwall is not a novel topic. I wrote “we need floodwall art” columns in 2009, 2019 and 2020. The floodwall was constructed by the Army Corps of Engineers following the great 1937 flood to keep the community dry and economically stable. It was not put up for aesthetics, but that can be remedied here as in other places.
Floodwalls are still in style; Milton is now getting a multimillion dollar one. Wall murals have also become a popular now; both would be good for downtown Huntington.
When the pandemic began, I, like many others, started cleaning out closets and files. In one, I found a Herald-Dispatch page from 2008, where Jim Ross, now this newspaper’s development and opinion editor, had a half-page story and spread of photos of four different attractive area floodwalls. And what did Huntington have? A sign saying that if you were not a park user, your vehicle would be towed! It’s not much different now.
It’s 13 years since that article appeared and nothing has changed. Why? Explanations include costs, complex arrangements required and that the Corps of Engineers has to approve such a project. Obtaining permission from the Corps and costs should not be deal breakers. Point Pleasant is a case in point. Their floodwall has many elegant historic paintings done by Robert Dafford, a well-recognized mural painter whose work also enhances floodwalls in Portsmouth, Ohio, Maysville, Paducah and Covington, Kentucky, New Orleans, Canada and more. Shouldn’t Huntington be able to keep up with Point Pleasant and Portsmouth? Usually, a combination of public/private initiative and funding has been needed.
Recently, attractive murals have been popping up around Huntington. Fourteenth Street West has a variety of appealing murals; the ones on the old fire station and the Wild Ramp are delightful. Huntington’s Fairfield area is adding three murals. The first, highlighted in this newspaper, is on the outer wall of Ebenezer Day Care Center and created by mural painter Ernel Martinez. The other two will be placed on the Unlimited Future Inc. building and the J.W. Scott Center. And recently, some of the murals in the city’s underpasses have been repainted to make them more attractive.
Bryan Chambers, communications director for Huntington, reports that Don Pendleton, a well-known artist who designed the Civic Center’s exterior motif, has created a new brand to publicize Huntington for its 150th anniversary and will be working with property owners to bring new art to downtown.
Murals and wall art are found around the world to enhance environments. Besides riverside artwork, I’ve seen them on concrete panels below an Illinois commuter train station and throughout Invergordon, a small Scottish town where about 20 murals depict special events, including the fire that destroyed the town’s main hotel.
Quality mural art requires a talented artist who understands the community and outdoor art. Here’s hoping that Huntington’s sesquicentennial this October initiates attractive murals in downtown Huntington and that we join other Ohio River communities that have made their floodwalls more attractive.