FREDERICK, Colo. (AP) — In April, the 9-foot rainbow trout was just a few pencil strokes.
Now it’s one of Frederick’s local landmarks.
The big catch is part of a literally off-the-wall mural and sculpture by Longmont artist Mario Miguel Echevarria. Finished at the end of November for the newest part of the Frederick Recreation Area, it shows a young woman chasing butterflies while a boy is knocked off his feet by the giant fish at the end of his line.
Key details — the bent pole, the fluttering net, the soaring trout — pop out and above the top of the “canvas,” a 60-foot by 12-foot wall of an old pump house near Milavec Lake. In the background sit the familiar homes and buildings along with … the Pantheon?
Smiling, Echevarria points out some other hidden details. A tightrope walker crossing Niagara Falls. A profile of comic book speedster The Flash. A concealed guitar, his signature touch that represents his admiration for the visceral power of music.
“I knew there was going to be a playground here, so I wanted to make it kid-friendly,” Echevarria said. “And most of the kids that come here see it immediately (and say) ‘Look, there’s a guy on a tightrope!'”
Echevarria’s been doing pieces like this for about 14 years. When he first came to Colorado, a young recent graduate in illustration from the Rhode Island School of Design, he had a chance to be part of a Fort Collins mural.
“I was hooked,” he said. “It’s not a throwaway in a magazine, or a T-shirt that’s going to be passé in a few years. It’s something that’s going to endure.”
It’s also something that takes a lot of time and effort.
The Frederick mural alone required 500 tiles. And the clay for just one easel’s worth of tiles can weigh about 500 pounds, dropping to 300 pounds once the assortment has dried out and is ready for the kiln.
On top of that, last summer was something like working in a kiln. The drought-stricken summer rapidly heated the south-facing wall, a condition that can create a thin “skin” over the wall’s surface.
“I had to work really quick and keep everything shielded, because if there’s a skin, it won’t have a good hold and the tile drops off,” Echevarria said. “That probably doubled my installation time.”
Add in the challenges of allowing for expansion and contraction in the wall (“I use a flexible adhesive on those areas”), of making sure there’re no air pockets in the hand-sized tiles before firing (“It blows apart like a hand grenade in the kiln”), and of getting the shades of colored glaze just right on the trout (“Do it wrong and you get a mess of gray”), and you realize it’s amazing that the piece was finished at all.
But finished it is. And Echevarria’s proud of it. Now he can move on to a project that has him even more nervous, a gigantic Denver mural that includes, among other pieces, an 18-foot frog.
He can’t wait.
“It’s kind of fun to go out and do something that’s a little beyond your comfort zone,” Echevarria said. “You’re terrified, but you get through it and you’re a little bigger internally. You’ve gone where you feared to tread.”
By SCOTT ROCHAT, Longmont Times-Call
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