By Dedra Cordle
Patti Von Niessen was on a mission.
As the executive director of Summer Jam West, a local non-profit organization whose goal is to bring music and art to the westside, she had been scouting locations for their third major mural and was quickly losing hope each time she went out.
“I had been driving up and down West Broad Street and up and down Sullivant Avenue and all throughout the city for weeks looking for the perfect place for our Peace Train mural,” she said. “We could never find a building that was large enough for what we had planned and we had begun to feel really discouraged.”
Then one day, on another pass along Sullivant Avenue, she spotted a huge and rather unremarkable wall at the intersection of S. Wheatland. She quickly fell in love.
“It was a beauty,” Von Niessen gushed.
As she exited her vehicle, this after spending several minutes gaping through the windshield thinking of the wall’s potential and promise, she searched the building for a contact number and promptly called to inquire about using it for a mural.
“It was a dead number,” she said. “But that just made us more determined to find out who owned the building.”
With the help of her husband and friend Doug Christenson, they discovered that the property was owned by the Bible Way Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ and they too were looking to spice up the plain, gray wall.
“We just wanted someone to paint it white so we could use it as a movie screen in the summer,” said Deacon Herman Ringer. “I never expected what was to come.”
Upon approval from the church, the organization put out a call for artists to submit designs for a Peace Train mural that would showcase “inclusion, diversity and acceptance.” Among the artists who submitted a design was Justin Withrow, a native of West Virginia who moved to the area a decade ago to attend the Columbus College of Art and Design.
“When we submitted our artwork for this competition, we never expected to win,” he said.
He added that while he had complete confidence in his team from Lookout Supply to create something beautiful, he had no confidence in their ability to be selected.
“We just never win anything,” Withrow said.
Von Niessen said the members of Summer Jam West spent weeks going over the proposals and could not come to a unanimous decision.
“They were all so wonderful,” she said.
Ultimately, they asked the leadership at the Bible Way Church to choose between the top-two vote getters. They chose Withrow.
“We loved his design because there is a little something for everyone,” said Ringer. “There were butterflies for the kids, a message about health, and the reminder that we all have to come together to achieve peace.”
In late May, Withrow and his team got to work on the 110 feet by 20 feet wall, transforming it with spray paint into a colorful 3D representation of love, light, and acceptance.
Withrow said he was proud of his mural, which was completed in late July, and hoped it could bring some positivity to a community that is often forgotten.
“This is a place that deserves beautiful things too.”
Ringer said he was delighted with the finished product, stating his belief that it could be a real conversation starter for change in the area.
“Art, especially artwork that looks like Justin’s, has a way of doing that,” he said.