'Artistic marathon' underway at iconic water reservoir mural in St. Andrews, N.B.

It’s been nearly 20 years since a critical piece of municipal infrastructure was turned into an iconic piece of public art in St. Andrews, N.B.

Thursday, work was underway to ensure the town’s water reservoir mural endures into the future with a tight deadline required for completion.

Artist Geoff Slater transformed the town’s grey water reservoir into a dramatic mural in 2003. A touch up has been required since, and now Slater is back to repaint the entire scene.

“This was the first mural I ever did,” says Slater. “It’s also still to this day, after doing a lot of murals, the largest mural I’ve ever done.”

The idea for the mural’s design came from community philanthropists John and Lucinda Flemer, who were inspired by the Panaroma Mesdag in The Hague. The Dutch city mural, where John Flemer grew up, is known as the largest circular art piece in Europe.

The St. Andrews mural pays homage to The Netherlands with an image of the country’s traditional windmill — which is also featured inside the Kingsbrae Garden site nearby — along with a pictorial tribute to local lupines and the St. Andrews wharf.

Soon after it was finished, the water reservoir mural quickly became a favourite spot for locals and visitors looking for a unique photo opportunity.

“It really makes sense as you see the ‘Welcome to St. Andrews’ sign that you see art behind it,” says St. Andrews mayor Brad Henderson. “We take a lot of pride in our community looking as beautiful as it is and this is a big part of how we do it.”

Over the years, Slater has been taken aback by the mural’s impact near and far.

“I would say still, after having done an awful lot of public art, it’s probably still the one I get the most feedback from,” says Slater.

Work to repaint the structure began in April, with plenty of scrapping required beforehand. Slater calls the project an “artistic marathon” due to its scale and the limited amount of time available for completion.

“This is the only time of year you can do it,” says Slater. “You have a window between mid-April and mid-May where the temperature is just right to be able to paint this mural. After that, (the reservoir) is covered in condensation until late fall. Then winter sets in and makes it too cold for the paint to set up.”

So far, Slater is on track to get the job done on time. Still, he’s taking nothing for granted on account of unpredictable May weather.

“Days like this are perfect but there’s very few of them.”