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A worldwide attraction

Drop-in artists from around the world and across the continent have contributed to a 300-foot-long mural in Phoenix that depicts the life cycles of pollinators.

The work, on the Exit 24 interchange structure, is about half finished, and painting will resume in spring.

Artist Judy Grillo, the project designer and coordinator, wanted the community to contribute but was surprised at how many others joined in. She’s had help from Japan, India, Slovakia, Guatemala, China, Canada, Mexico, Russia and many U.S. states.

“Most of them just stopped by McDonald's while driving through America,” said Grillo. “They came over to see what we were doing.”

The city of Phoenix, and its arts and Bee City USA committees, put the project together. Bee City Chair Sharon Schmidt came up with the idea. With city officials, approval was obtained from Oregon Department of Transportation to paint the wall. Painting started last summer but was disrupted by hot weather, then by some paving in the area and also by smoke from fires. The last painting was done in October. In all, 160 painters have chipped in.

Most visitors initially declined when asked to contribute, saying they couldn’t paint, but were often coaxed into doing a flower.

“I told them to make their flowers small. They were painting background,” said Grillo.

Contributors included a man from Guatemala who didn’t speak a word of English and an 89-year-old Japanese woman who painted birds that she viewed on her iPhone as she worked. A red maple leaf was added by a Canadian.

Rogue Valley Symphony Conductor Martin Majkut wanted to include a tribute to Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee” in the mural after he learned about it from Grillo, who is a symphony volunteer. He painted a red rose and the musical stave to which Grillo added bees as notes.

When Majkut’s mother, Anna, came to visit from Slovakia, she wanted to join the effort and added lavender lilacs.

The youngest painter was not quite 2 years old. The oldest was 101-year-old Grant Shepard of Medford, whose wife, June, also added to the work

While Grillo has largely let artists do their own things during the first year, there will be more direction in the second year so she can incorporate themes originally planned along with Bee City Phoenix for the mural. In addition to pollinators, one can find dogs, cats, deer, ladybugs and a covered wagon on the wall. A stream, wetland, hills, sky and pear trees are depicted.

About 15 feet at its tallest, the mural tapers down to 4 feet on its western end. An area beyond a fence on the eastern end still needs to be painted, as does much of the western area. The western part will fade into night, and some fairies may show up there, said Grillo.

Grillo hopes that work on the project can begin in late April. To ensure that the paint will last as long as possible it needs to be applied when the wall temperature is between 60 and 85 degrees.

Households donated leftover paint for the project. Home Depot, located across the freeway from the site, has supplied a clear-coat preservative finish to go on top of the mural.

A season kickoff party will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday, May 12, at the site, said Grillo. For people who want to get some practice, Grillo is seeking volunteers to help paint a 5-by-7-foot Phoenix inside the Phoenix library at 11 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 6.

— Tony Boom is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.

Judy Grillo is the designer of a Phoenix mural project at the Exit 24 interchange. [Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch]
Greg Stabach captures the mural being created at the Phoenix Interstate 5 Exit 24 interchange, facing the McDonald's parking lot. [Mail Tribune / Andy Atkinson]