“We are greatly influenced by our surroundings and by the stories told about where we live and where we come from.”
For close to a century, four tall concrete silos unofficially represented the agricultural roots of Putnam County. Growing out of the ground along the primary east/west railroad line through the county seat, the four side-by-side pillars served as grain storage for the feed store that still operates in their shadow.
As times changed, the railroad transitioned to a highway, and the silos became prominent landmarks at one of Greencastle’s busiest intersections. No longer used, and in some disrepair, the four became a canvas to reflect the more-than-“agri” culture of today’s Putnam County.
The leader of the group behind the Putnam County Mural Project, an initiative to create additional community pride and to visually illustrate life here, said, “We believe murals have the ability to transform communities by celebrating heritage, creating civic pride and enriching lives through participatory art-making,”
Jumping back one decade, Greencastle received Indiana’s first multi-million-dollar Stellar Communities grant in 2011, focusing the resources on reactivating the area around the Putnam County Courthouse Square and creating “Communiversity” with DePauw University, as the school’s president described it.
To continue the accomplishments of that grant, and to extend it beyond downtown, more than $60,000 was raised to wash, scrape, prime, and hire a mural artist with an international reputation to turn the four silo canvases into a reflection of past and present life in Putnam County.
Megan Caruso, co-founder of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania-based Sprocket Mural Works, with extensive experience in how people are affected by their surroundings and the role the arts play in providing a shared narrative within communities, advised on the project. Sprocket has painted and collaborated on 70 public art pieces in the Greater Harrisburg region, commissioned 50-plus artists, engaged 50-plus community organizations, and worked with 300-plus volunteers.
“We are greatly influenced by our surroundings and by the stories told about where we live and where we come from,” Caruso said. “Both directly impact how we see ourselves and live our lives. Murals can be a powerful tool to positively affect the way we walk through our environment on a visual and emotional level.”
For months, residents from all corners of Putnam County looked at designs, colors and murals painted in all corners of the world. After input-gathering as to what the murals should reflect, more than 2,000 votes in a county of 40,000 resulted in specific content the artist would be asked to paint. A 15-person selection committee matched that desired content, the desired design, style, and colors with artists whose portfolios of mural work demonstrated an ability to create a Putnam County landmark.
Internationally known mural artist Andrei Krautsou, who goes by the artist name Key Detail, was selected from among more than 70 applications. The New York-based artist, a native of Minsk, Belarus, created two proposed designs. Again, more than 2,000 residents voted.
The silos, which began life along a railroad, now front along Veterans Memorial Parkway, and the winning design included a large American Eagle on the westernmost silo, as an additional salute to the veterans the parkway honors. The bald eagle, with a beautiful white head and large yellow beak, is surrounded by dark pink and red peonies, Indiana’s state flower and a prolific bloomer in Putnam County. The background of this “canvas” is sky blue.
The silo alongside it reflects the county’s agricultural heritage and a significant source of present-day pride. The face of a black angus cow is the dominant feature, framed by the greens and golds of corn stalks. A brown horse and a red barn provide more context, and all are on a background reflecting the rows and golden color of a large field at harvest time.
The third of the four silos reflects the county’s longtime engagement with music. Even today, live bands play somewhere in the Putnam County every night of the week. Two months-long summer music festivals crescendo in a fall weekend music event that draws thousands to the Putnam County Courthouse Square. The list goes on and includes fourth-graders in the county being provided with violins and instruction by DePauw music faculty and students, reinforcing “Communiversity.” The brown wood of a violin dominates the third silo, encircled by a brass-colored French horn on a background of peonies as a consistent theme and color across the four towers.
The largest silo, closest to the intersection of the highways, has two dominant cultural symbols of local life – a deer and a covered bridge. In six nature parks, Putnam County has abundant wildlife and more land in protected nature preserves than any county in Indiana. It also has nine remaining covered bridges from the 19th century, and more than 50 dot the rural landscape within an hour’s drive of this mural. Raspberries are cultivated and grow wild across the rolling hills of Putnam County’s urban and rural communities. The red color of the fruit complements the dark pinks of the peonies painted on the sister silos. The county’s rich history in wild mushroom growing and hunting gets a large nod, with lush, brown morel mushrooms highlighting the brown coat of the deer and the wooden floor of the red covered bridge.
Krautsou finished the more than 80,000-square-foot work, the largest mural in Indiana, in 12 days at the end of September, 2019, using specially designed spray paint that withstands fading from the sun and elements for at least 15 years. He focuses on large-scale projects, with work featured in some of the world’s most notable mural districts, as well as in international magazines and books. Key Detail has completed more than 50 large-scale murals, in Washington, D.C.; Chengdu, China; New York City; Eindhoven, Netherlands; Miami, Fla.; Mumbai, India; and Wiesbaden, Germany, among others.
Of this project, Krautsou said, “I’m really excited about this because the facility is massive and unique. This shape adds more dimension to my artwork.” Of public art projects, Krautsou sees mural art as more than an interesting image painted on a series of silos. He said, “I can say for sure that murals become magnetic spots for citizens of every community. They identify place and make it special.” Now icons, these four enormous silo canvases certainly do that for Putnam County.