Dubuque artist regains inspiration through mural project
BY ANTHONY FRENZEL
Aug. 11, 2018
DUBUQUE, Iowa (AP) — After her husband's death, Cynthia Nelms-Byrne realized she had lost something.
An artist by trade — or calling — she found that putting brush to canvas wasn't working.
"I haven't painted anything for a year and a half," Nelms-Byrne said. "I've tried, but it wasn't working out. I just wasn't very enthused."
Her husband, Bob Byrne — a nationally known columnist, billiards enthusiast and one-half of a romance for the ages — died in 2016. She and Byrne would have been married for 27 years this year.
"I'd try (to paint) but nothing was turning out," she said. "I hardly went to my studio. I wasn't depressed, exactly. I didn't have any enthusiasm for art. I figured, well, this is it. I'm going to retire and not do any more art."
But inspiration came not like lightning, but as an evolving process. It ultimately resulted in the mural that now adorns her lower Main Street home, near Vinny Vanucchi's Little Italy.
Byrne initially petitioned for a mural on her building as part of a broader Voices Productions public art project. Then she got some encouragement to design a mural herself. Finally, she attended a workshop held in July, which provided the inspiration to begin, the Telegraph Herald reported.
"I was completely charged with ambition to do it and the desire to do it, even though I didn't really know what I was doing," Nelms-Byrne said. "This really got my mojo going again. It reawakened my artistic desires."
What evolved was "Moon Goddess," located above her Main Street building's garage facing U.S. 52/61/151 and the Port of Dubuque. It was the mural that brought back her passion for art.
The workshop she attended was facilitated by Voices Productions as part of its downtown mural project. More than 20 murals have been applied to historic buildings since the project was launched.
About 50 workshop participants interacted with mural artist Andrew "Gaia" Pisacane and others. Pisacane, in particular, helped the mural take shape.
"I started with a very primitive drawing with a little girl throwing a ball that would bounce," Nelms-Byrne said. "I showed it to Gaia (Pisacane) who was staying with me while he was doing murals in town. And he said, 'What about if instead of a ball, it's the moon?' And I remembered that my name, Cynthia, is related to the moon, to the goddess of the moon."
With a design taking shape, Nelms-Byrne found an image of a woman, sourced from copyright-free images. She painted the woman, imported it to Photoshop, added the moon and star imagery and discussed color options with Pisacane.
"I think there were only five or six colors in the whole thing," Nelms-Byrne said. "He showed me how to apply the paint. He showed me how to work the lift. The fun part was the lift."
On Friday, July 13, she projected the image above her garage and drew the outline. Priming and painting started the next day, and by Wednesday, July 18, it was complete.
"It was really fun because Sunday, when I started putting the color on, a bunch of my friends came over and sat in the driveway and drank beer and watched me and yelled comments and suggestions," she said.
Feedback hasn't just come from her social circle. She said a few travelers stopped by to admire her work as she was doing cleanup. She also witnesses many people taking pictures in front of the other downtown murals that surround her residence.
"Part of our intention was to embolden the local creative classes to explore itself in public spaces. Namely on lifeless, fallow walls," said Sam Mulgrew, who along with Gene Tully and Janice Roerig-Blong has spearheaded the project. "Cynthia is a perfect representation of that. She's a property owner, she had her own artistic concept and we did nothing more than help as a muse for her."
For Nelms-Byrne, though, it wasn't just a chance to contribute to a project in which she believes.
"It was way better than good," she said. "It was life-changing."
Information from: Telegraph Herald, http://www.thonline.com