Story and Photos by Alice Gerard
Senior Contributing Writer
Terry Klaaren and his assistant, Anita Long, had just started painting a mural in the children’s section of the Grand Island Memorial Library on Aug. 1, when a woman approached them, saying that her granddaughter was an artist.
“In talking with her, I could see, by the questions she asked and how she was responding to what I was saying, that she’s an artist,” he said. When Klaaren asked her what she wanted to paint, she said “another airplane.”
Klaaren said he asked her to make it a red airplane. He had her stand on a little stepstool and said, “Whatever you can reach, you can paint.’ I told her, when she started that, if this is good enough, it will stay on the wall. If it’s no good, I’ll paint over it. She said, ‘That’s fine.’ We got to this point, and she said, ‘OK.’ I said, ‘I’m going to keep the plane just as it is, but I’m going to make the speed lines do a loopy loop. And I’ll fix those.’ She said, ‘Please do, because I don’t like the way I did it.’ ”
Klaaren said he liked “the idea of having a resident of the Island, a person who’s young, 12-13 years old, coming in here and doing that. It’s likely she will come in many years from now, when she’s older. Maybe even a mom, and say, ‘I did that airplane.’ ”
The idea for the mural came about in August of 2022, when Klaaren and Long came to the library to present an exhibit of his artwork and that of his late wife, Dori.
Terry Klaaren paints the sky.
Getting the exhibit together was a big project, Long said. “We had to go through hundreds, maybe thousands of paintings, and we tried to match them up so, every time I would bring one out, I would get the whole story. We finally got 40 of them together, side by side. I categorized them and did a spread sheet.”
“The mural was inspired by my first few interactions with Terry last year,” said Library Director Bridgette Heinz. “He had a lot of energy. He was totally focused on this art show for his late wife. I told him, ‘Terry, you’re a force of nature.’ He’s the one who brought the idea of a mural. We started to talk about different ideas for it. He said that he would like to come back here to do one. He is planning on being here every summer. Originally, he just wanted to paint little things on the existing wall.
“Before we had the mural, we had those puzzle pieces over in the place. He said, ‘While I’m here, if you want, I could have little animals poking their heads out.’ I said, ‘You know what? I’m totally down for a mural, but let’s do this right. Let’s not rush through this. Let’s plan it. Let me talk to the Friends and see about getting an actual professional commission set up with you. We can talk back and forth about ideas for it, rather than just rushing through something.’ I’d rather have something that represents the community and is really well thought out.”
“When I went home, she arranged to have it done,” Klaaren said. “She (Heinz) secured the funds and the permissions. I did some drawings. She said good. We are back here, a year later. That’s why I’m here. This is something that was meant to happen.”
One of the first concepts that Heinz and Klaaren discussed for the mural was the zephyr.
“We’ve talked about the initial concept of doing a sky with zephyrs,” Klaaren said. “Zephyrs are wind currents and frolicky things. Nice things. That evolved into big clouds and a bow in the wind and the airborne vehicles to add some color to this whole thing. Featured in the mural in the sky are significant things like that Spillman biplane.”
The idea for that biplane came from “a person who’s affiliated with the library and whose grandfather flew it.”
The Niagara Falls image was not planned. Klaaren had planned the Grand Island image for one wall.
“I considered the tree line to be Grand Island,” he said. “It’s anchored by the south Grand Island bridge at the left hand. Then, we come across the Island and there’s Buckhorn Creek, and it goes out to the Niagara River, where it goes on down, and that’s going to be the North Grand Island bridge.
“But there’s this whole wall here. What are we going to do? We hadn’t planned that out. Just standing here on the first day, I said (to Bridgette), ‘Why don’t we do the falls over here?’ So, we did. But you realize that the Rainbow Bridge crossing is going to Canada, but it’s going to end up bumping into the North Grand Island Bridge going into Niagara Falls. So, that is a place that doesn’t exist. I’m using foliage as camouflage. I’m going to take that up to that corner to put it behind the bushes. That way, both bridges go into the bushes.”
Klaaren said that, after painting murals on a wide variety of surfaces, he found the library wall to be “perfect. It’s utterly flawless. It’s seamless. There are no bumps. It’s more efficient to paint than if I were painting on concrete blocks.”
Unlike the plaza mural, originally painted in 2012 and covered in 2021, “This project is safer. The building belongs to Grand Island, as opposed to some landlord who doesn’t care. I feel this is incredibly safe and secure. I was excited and happy just to be able to do it.”
“This is a great town and community. I love Grand Island. It’s lovely,” said Long, who was born in England and grew up in Miami.
On Aug. 9, the mural is complete.