Coating Work Begins for MI Silo Murals


Several rusted 70-year-old silos in Saginaw, Michigan, are scheduled to receive new designs as a part of a project to paint murals on the structures this month.

According to reports, when the project is completed, the new murals will be the second largest in the United States in terms of square-footage size, costing around $750,000.

About the Silo Murals

Michigan Live reports that Okuda San Miguel, a muralist from Madrid, is leading the project in Saginaw’s Old Town business district, which is expected to begin either today (May 1) or tomorrow (May 2). Additionally, five other muralists from the region will reportedly aid Okuda in the painting effort.

Mark Flegenheimer, one of the organizers of the initiative, said that the effort to paint the nearly 70,000-square-foot surface area of the silos could take about one month to complete.

“This mural is more than just paint on walls; it’s a testament to the power of art to transform spaces and uplift spirits,” said Flegenheimer. “We are incredibly excited to collaborate with Okuda San Miguel and our local artists to bring this vision to life in Old Town Saginaw.”

According to the report, the new murals will be the second largest in the United States, coming after the Toledo-based, 170,000 square-foot Glass City River Wall mural.

According to the report, the Saginaw silos serve as one of the city’s once-profitable industries. The long-defunct Frutchey Bean Co. built most of the existing structures on the property in the 1950s to store grains and beans.

Additionally, the history of the property stretches back even further to the 1850s, when the company was known as Brand and Hardin Milling Co. However, until recently, the silos sat without purpose, picking up rust and towering over one of the city’s most-visited business and arts districts.

When Flegenheimer announced plans for the mural, he also commissioned a crew last fall to apply colorful primer paint to the silos, turning them into something like “oversized crayons.” Now, the structures are painted in shades of purple, yellow and red.

According to the report, Flegenheimer hired Okuda for the $750,000 in part using corporate donations, as well as a $50,000 public fundraising campaign.

Plans to paint the silos were officially announced in June of last year. According to that report, Flegenheimer was inspired during a trip to his alma mater, recalling the silos there he remembered once as “eyesores.”

“Then I came to town to make a presentation to a class, and as I was coming over a hill, I was greeted by these silos that now had this gorgeous mural on them,” he said. “I told myself, ‘If the folks in Greencastle can pull this off here, we can do this in Saginaw.’”

For their mural project, the developers reportedly gathered early investments from 10 organizations including the Harvey Randall Wickes Foundation, Dow Chemical Co. Foundation and Huntington Bank. At the time, they were hoping for public investment as well, announcing details that summer for a GoFundMe-style public fundraising campaign.

“We’d like to think of this as a regional effort because, based upon what we see with other major murals, these become an attraction for people all over the country,” said Larry Preston, Flegenheimer’s development partner. “Arguably, we’re going to have the finest one in the country.”

Flegenheimer stated that the mural “would not be representational” of any existing Saginaw iconography or symbols, and that it would likely not include portraits of recognizable buildings or landmarks tied to the community. Instead, the developers believed that Okuda would offer the project an original artistic piece, painted in his vision.

The developers had chosen Okuda because of his prestigious reputation, but also, there reportedly were not many other artists with experience handling a project of this scale and complexity, Flegenheimer said.

“There’s probably 15 or 20 muralists in the world that do these massive works,” he said. “Okuda’s one of them. We’re not going to skimp on this part of it. We want to do this right, to make it lasting.”

Neither Flegenheimer nor Preston owned the structures, and so had to secure an easement agreement with SkyWeb Networks, the Saginaw-based Internet provider that owns the property on South Lyon, near Court.

The company was reportedly using the facilities for their 150-foot height, installing antennas at the zenith to boost cell phone signal coverage. The structures could reportedly continue to serve that function while now doubling as an artistic monument.

The developers also stated that the project could help ensure preservation of a piece of Saginaw’s past, providing deterrence from demolition plans for at least a few more generations.

“I’ve been thinking for years, man, what are we going to have to do to tear these silos down,” Preston said. “But this idea of turning them into a mural is so much better. Why tear them down when we can turn them into something truly phenomenal.”

The project’s $750,000 price tag was expected to cover more than a painting contract, Flegenheimer said. The cost reportedly also included the application of primer paint to the silos’ surface, and the demolition of other structures on the surrounding property.

“This is a great opportunity to change the whole look and welcoming feel for people entering Saginaw,” Flegenheimer said.

Outside Influences

Flegenheimer said that he had consulted with developers involved in the Glass City River Wall Mural in Toledo, Ohio, hoping to learn from challenges they faced before completing their project.

The Glass City mural encompasses the Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) concrete grain silos in Toledo, east of I-75 along the Maumee River. 82,365 cars reportedly pass by the location every day, equating to over 30 million views per year.

The Glass City project was first conceived in 2019, when Brandi Winberly and Nicole LeBoutillier went on a boat trip on the Maumee River. Upon seeing the ADM concrete grain silos, they came up with the idea for the mural space and called their friend, Christina Kasper, who is an art consultant and President of nonprofit Urban Sight, Inc.

Following the idea, a steering committee was established alongside a budget of $750,000. A grant from ADM and the port authority for economic development contributed to kick off the project, but the rest of the money was reportedly raised.

The team then put out an international request for quotation to find an artist for the mural. Kasper said after receiving numerous proposals, the group agreed upon artist Gabe Gault, best known for his portraits and trademark backgrounds using camouflage patterns.

Following two years of planning, a team of local artists and muralists began painting in June 2021, pausing the project that winter. Then, in January 2022 the Glass City project resumed, at the time it was about 85% complete.

Now, the completed mural wraps around 28 concrete grain silos total. According to reports, the project required about 5,000 gallons of paint.

Featuring Gault’s signature use of flora and fauna in his art, 25 silos on the mural included wild sunflowers, or Sun Chokes. Symbolically, the sunflowers represent hope, faith and good fortune, while historically it was one of the key crops for indigenous people of the region.

Portraits on the last three silos—representing the significance of the Native American women and children who planted and maintained the corn fields that historically lined the banks of the Maumee river from Toledo to Fort Wayne, Indiana—are depictive of The Miami Tribe of Oklahoma, The Shawnee Tribe, and Lakota Tribe.

Each of the models is reportedly a citizen of a Tribal Nation today. The portraits are depicted wearing jewelry common to the groups both in the past and present, with the mix of modern-day clothing and this jewelry demonstrating “that these people represent living communities, each with connections to their community’s history and ancestors.”


Tagged categories: Artists; Coating Application; Coating Materials; Coating Materials; Coatings; Coatings Technology; Design; Historic Structures; Murals; NA; North America; Ongoing projects; Paint; Paint application; Program/Project Management; Tanks; Tanks

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