Art evokes community
Murals bring people together
By Angie Landsverk
Leif Larson enjoys bringing joy to others through his work.
“I love making people happy,” he said. “That’s why murals are so fun for me.”
His latest project is wrapping up in downtown Waupaca.
Larson is the professional artist who designed and painted the mural on the side of the Antiques on Main building.
The Arts Board Mural Committee chose him for the project after seeing his work in other communities.
The committee includes members of the Waupaca Community Arts Board, city officials and downtown merchants.
Marci Reynolds is the arts board’s president.
She said there were many qualities and feelings the committee wanted to evoke through the mural.
Reynolds said this included what is important about living in the area and what community means to people.
The planning took place via a Zoom meeting.
Committee members talked about Waupaca’s downtown, recreation, the Chain O’ Lakes, industry, agriculture and more.
“The way he did it – bringing it all together,” Reynolds said as she watched Larson paint on a recent day.
Larson said he is sensitive and receptive to ideas when he works on a mural for a community.
The project began on Sept. 22. The brick exterior had to be primed.
Larson then drew the design by hand on the side of the building.
It took him two days to do that.
He typically worked 10 hours a day on the mural – unless it rained.
Larson said he used the windows on the building as his keys and markers.
“I was taught in art school to always think of the total,” he said.
Art and baseball
Larson studied art at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, and graduated in 2005 with a bachelor of fine arts degree.
He grew up in Appleton and remembers he started drawing vigorously around the time he was 8.
Larson was also an athlete and received a Division I scholarship to play baseball at Indiana State.
A left-handed pitcher, he broke his back during his first semester of college.
He then transferred to UW-Oshkosh, where he also considered playing baseball.
“I realized I wanted to do art. For me, I needed to pursue other things,” Larson said. “Ever since, I’ve just worked hard at it.”
After he graduated from college, Larson started his business.
“And ever since, I’ve been roaming around the state doing a variety of things,” he said.
The 39-year-old lives in Oshkosh with his wife and two children.
He paints every day.
Larson also teaches art at the Trout Museum of Art in Appleton, working with children between 9 and 14 years old.
In addition, he does commissioned work, canvas paintings and portraits.
Another part of his business involves attending wedding ceremonies and receptions and doing live paintings.
“It started sort of organically from a friend who said, ‘You should paint my daughter’s wedding,’” he said.
Larson sells his art throughout the country.
“All these different things is what makes this work for me,” he said.
Researching a community
When Larson is going to do a mural in a community, he spends time traveling around the area and doing research.
“You really get to know the community,” he said.
The mural he created here includes the hills off of U.S. Highway 10.
“When you come into town, those hills are such a beautiful entrance into the community,” he said.
Larson started with them.
As he stood on the scaffolding each day, he was able to take it all in, he said.
“It keeps me open minded, curious and hungry for more,” Larson said.
When he went home each night, Larson spent time decompressing.
His preparation for his next day’s work included staring at pictures he took of his progress and focusing on different parts of it.
“Each day is a specific game plan,” Larson said. “I take it one day at a time.”
He said murals draw people together.
“I love doing murals,” Larson said, “because I’m very aware of what the impact is.”
As he worked on the project, people often stopped and thanked him for what he was doing.
Larson said this was the perfect opportunity and space for him.
“What it comes down to is seeing people happy, putting a smile on a face, giving inspiration, giving hope,” he said. “I really try to be a positive person. That’s why I enjoy bright colors and whimsy.”
The project was financed through grants from Community First Credit Union and a Waupaca Area Convention and Visitors Bureau Tourism Development grant.
“I just love that people are responding to this in a positive way,” Larson said of his work. “I hope the mural brings a lot of joy to the community and to think bigger about life.”