Downtown Butler to host 'walldog' convention in 2016

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Pat Collins, executive director of the Butler County Historical Society, has a creative bent, but she never saw herself as a “walldog” until fairly recently. Heck, she didn’t even know what a “walldog” was until fairly recently.

Now, Ms. Collins has picked up the skill of and the love for painting historical exterior wall murals and, in fact, has arranged for a “walldogs” convention of sorts for downtown Butler in 2016.

“We think it’s fantastic. It’ll be yet another great new attraction to promote in Butler and that’s a really good thing,” said Patti Jo Lambert of the Butler County Tourism and Convention Bureau.

In summer 2016, more than 100 artists will converge on Butler and, within three days, will paint some of the city’s most visible walls with scenes depicting Butler County’s history.

The genesis of the project reaches to April 2012 when Ms. Collins was visiting Pontiac, Ill., helping a woman from California with genealogical research. While there, she started asking about all the “cool murals” on the buildings all over town. “It was mind boggling, the quality of what I was seeing,” Ms. Collins recalled. After asking a number of questions, she learned that a walldog convention had been held, allowing dozens of artists to come into the town to create historical murals. The result was “tens of thousands of people visiting to see what had been accomplished.”

She knew she wanted that for downtown Butler, where her historical society is based.

As it turned out, Jill Welsh of Jill’s Custom Signs in Middlesex was one of the walldogs, and Ms. Collins had already had a professional relationship with Ms. Welsh. (For more information, visit www.thewalldogs.com)

Ms. Collins decided to visit Kewanee, Ill., with Ms. Welsh for a walldogs convention from July 10 to 14 and, there, Ms. Collins picked up a paintbrush and helped to execute a plan to transform the town. “I got a real education!” Ms. Collins commented.

Using plans that already had been designed on and sketched on the walls, the painters — numbering around 200 —worked their magic.

She returned to Butler and began speaking to her board of directors, which immediately supported the idea. Then she approached city officials and proprietors and found a broad base of support for the concept. Ultimately, she secured an agreement with the walldogs to come to Butler July 27-31, 2016.

The walldogs come from all over the world, from Australia and Scotland and throughout the United States. They travel on their own dime, then are put up by locals. Donations are raised from the local community for supplies needed to paint the murals.

“They paint on Thursday, Friday and Saturday and, after finishing up on Sunday, they all turn around and go home. It’s like a family gathering,” she said. This year, she will join them in Shipshewana, Ind., from June 18-22.

The plan is for the walldogs to paint 10 murals when they visit Butler. Those involved are now selecting sites for them.

Some $50,000 in cash or donations will be needed for everything from food and housing to scaffolding and ladders.

“I’m absolutely convinced we’ll have no problem getting what we need,” she said.

Some of the ideas for mural subjects include the Bantam Jeep, steel and rail industries, old-time theaters, newspapers and Coca Cola.

Project leaders will be picked from among existing wall dogs and then designs will be made and run past Butler’s city council for approval. The historical society and other stakeholders will be involved, as well. “We’ll want to make sure they’re historically correct and beautiful. We have lots of great wall space, so that’s not an issue,” Ms. Collins said.

She expects about 200 walldogs to be in town for the 2016 International Walldog Meet.

Butler Downtown Main Street manager Chelynne Curci said she is excited to have the group in Butler.

"This will bring thousands of people into our city,"she said. "We have five murals in downtown and this will add to to the beautification of our city."

She said murals tend to make people feel safe and encourages them to explore more.

"This will be a wonderful experience for us," she said.


Karen Kane: kkane@post-gazette.com or at 724-772-9180.

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