200 Artists, 16 Murals, 5 Days

by Beth Weimer
Above: Committee Chair Tara Bedei traveled to other Walldog Festivals, including the Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, festival in July 2017, to meet the mural artists and learn how to prepare Streator.

Hundreds of artists and volunteers are gearing up to transform Streator at the Streator Walldogs Mural Festival: Murals and Milestones. From June 27th through July 1st, the Walldogs—a renowned group of sign and mural artists from all over the world—will descend upon the city to paint public murals throughout its downtown.

Painted advertisements on the sides of buildings were common from the 1890s through the early 1960s, the visible remnants of which are known today as “ghost signs.” The term walldogs came about because the sign painters were often tethered to the building as they worked. Since 1993, modern-day Walldogs have come together once a year to help revitalize small towns by creating vintage-inspired murals of local significance.

Councilwoman Tara Bedei, who chairs the Streator Walldogs Committee, reached out to the organization in 2014 and was told the next available date was four years away. They were happy to wait, as 2018 happens to be Streator’s sesquicentennial anniversary. “Then we learned it would be the Walldogs’ 25th anniversary and Illinois' Bicentennial—perfect timing for all three events,” she adds.

Bringing the group to town was truly a community effort, involving local government, artists, businesses, churches and nonprofit organizations. Several fundraisers were organized to help finance the festival, and scores of volunteers will welcome the visiting artists into their homes and provide assistance throughout the event.

Artists put finishing touches on murals in Butler, Pennsylvania, in July 2016.

The public voted on the subjects of the murals—some will be painted directly on the buildings and others on panels to be installed later. They will pay homage to a range of local legends, including astronomer Clyde Tombaugh (discoverer of Pluto), vaudeville entertainer George "Honey Boy” Evans and Baskin-Robbins co-founder Burt Baskin—as well as historic elements ranging from the Roamer automobile and Vin Fiz transcontinental flight to the WWII Canteen Monument, the railroads, the Civil War and more. There will even be a farm-themed mural that kids can help paint in the city park.

Bedei is excited to see years of planning finally come to fruition. “It’s amazing to watch a wall turn from plain brick to a piece of art in just a few days,” she says. “It’s almost a surreal feeling for me… knowing that this will be happening in my hometown.”

The festivities begin on Wednesday evening with live music in the park—and as it gets dark, the artists will begin projecting their mural designs onto their walls. Pay a visit to Streator to watch the Walldogs in action, and check out streatorwalldogs.com or thewalldogs.com for more information. a&s