PES getting a new mural

Paonia artist Seth Weber stands in front of his complete mural at Paonia Elementary School. The mural is part of an overall campus improvement project by the school's Paonia Parent Organization.

One of Delta County's most prolific muralists is back at work after a years-long hiatus.

Paonia artist Seth Weber recently completed a roughly 2,700-square-foot mural at Paonia Elementary School. The dual images give the big grayish-brown walls on the northeast corner of the school a whole new look.

Weber completed the mural during July. "I don't think I've given it a title," he says as he contemplates where, if anywhere, to put the final highlights. He also needs to sign it. After thinking it over for a few seconds, he suggests a title: "Take Flight."

Part of a larger school improvement project, the mural stretches across two large walls. One mural, yet two distinct images. In creating the design, Weber wanted the composition to compliment the school and give life to the wall.

While it is clear that the two murals are connected, Weber wants each wall to read individually. He wants to get as much impact and inspire as much imagination as possible from the mural.

On the east wall, a bald eagle -- the Paonia school mascot -- morphs from an egg nesting in a tall tree, to an eaglet's first flight, to full-grown raptor gliding in sunlight. To the north, a little girl's imagination spills out from the pages of a book, her eyes open in wonder as she discovers history, sports, dance, science, botany, nature.

"All that flowing from her mind," says Weber. "Good quality imagination."

Weber has designed and painted many murals throughout Delta County. Unlike traditional murals that cover every inch of space in paint, his most recent -- three in Paonia alone, including the PES mural -- use a different method he's been experimenting with. The process begins with an outline of the objects, which he fills in with different color tones. The wall's surface acts as negative space that is incorporated into the design. The method can save both time and money because it requires less paint, yet the results are striking and stunning.

Drivers slow down to take a look as they pass by, and a bicyclist yells to Weber that it looks amazing.

Stucco and stone, the PES wall "has a cool texture to it," like a canvas, he says.

Until recently, Weber had not painted a mural in five or six years. In the mid-2000s, when he painted several murals throughout the county, they were popular and he was very busy painting. Then their popularity waned.

"Now it's definitely on the rise again," he says. "I hear more and more about murals all the time."

That spells opportunity for the self-trained artist. Last winter he completed a large mural at Grassroots Cycles, 401 Colorado Ave. in Grand Junction, using the same negative space technique. "That one is super fun," he said.

It also opened doors for more projects in the Grand Junction area. He's also planning a mural project on a Denver underpass using a technique that duplicates his watercolors -- another technique through which he's finding great success.

He credits some very prominent mentors for his talents. One mentor is "very amazing professional artist" who sold huge oil paintings for tens of thousands of dollars even before they were painted. As he was preparing to enroll in art school, the mentor urged him to skip it and study business so he can sell his paintings.

He now makes a living off of his art, albeit a modest one. But wealth is not the goal. He and wife Chelsea, also an artist, and whom he calls the more business-minded of the two, are all about fostering children and nurturing and encouraging their imaginations.

"These days," he says, "it's not as common for kids to just solely be in their world of imagination, of learning. They're so busy blasting video games. You see 10-year-olds grasping their cell phones."

Working on the elementary school mural, he got lots of comments from passers by. Several students who came to hang out and watch him work said they think their school is cool. That makes him smile. He hopes it will inspire creativity in each of them.

It takes time to really look at the entire mural, but one detail stands out. From the pages of a book in the girl's hand flows the beginning of a well-known scientific equation: E=...

It wasn't an oversight that the equation is not complete, said Weber. He was asked by a physicist friend who teaches science at Hotchkiss High School if he plans to finish the equation. Weber told him "No. That's life. Life is an open equation. What does E equal? You have to figure that out. I want that to be the message. You have to sort out that equation."

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