- Associated Press - Sunday, March 6, 2016

PUEBLO, Colo. (AP) - Objects may be larger than they appear. Take Cynthia Ramu’s 7-by-11-foot mural on an interior wall of the Pueblo Heritage Museum. Just a short distance away, on the other side of the railroad tracks, the full-sized 65-by-120-foot version decorates the Arkansas River levee.

But not for long.

The Pueblo Conservancy District’s project to lop the top 12 feet off the levee - machinery that destroys the concrete canvas - will catch up to the full-size mural sometime soon, leaving only a memory of the artwork.

Much like its subject, the Colorado Fuel and Iron Co. mill as it appeared in 1902, when it had all 12 of the original stacks.

“The Whistle at 3” mural was a section of Ramu’s original design for the Pueblo Levee Mural Project in 1992. Using projected images, she painted the smaller mural at the museum, located at 201 W. B St., last summer. It’s incorporated into an exhibit that also features William Jackson Palmer, one of Pueblo’s founding fathers. Palmer established CF& I, the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad and South Pueblo, among other Colorado landmarks.

“The title is ‘The Whistle at 3.’ In Pueblo, the whistle was the time you got up or went to sleep or went to work,” said Heraldo Acosta, a member of the museum who set up the exhibits. “I think it complements what Palmer had done. Pueblo needs to say thank you to Palmer.”

And to Ramu.

“Since they’re tearing down the levee, or half of the levee, I thought it would be appropriate,” said Acosta, who has been using his own camera to document the mural’s destruction as the levee is rebuilt. “I am just amazed at how much she has done for the community with her teaching and the Empty Bowls (a community fundraiser for the homeless). She’s just a great person.”

The mini mural incorporates Ramu’s statement about what the mural means to her. In her own words: “As I dove into the endless archives at the library, I was moved by the rich history of the mill. In the beginning I was incorporating at least five separate murals honoring the structures and the mill workers through the past 100 years. My mural on the levee encompassed an area of 65 feet tall by 120 feet long on a 45-degree angle and took me over two months to complete during the summer months. At a point I ran low on money because I did not live in Pueblo at the time, was commuting from Redwing in the Huerfano, and the local Steelworkers Union pitched in to help me cover some of my final expenses.”

The 1992 full-size mural also received funding from a CoVisions grant for art in public places, and when it was completed, CF& I and the Colorado Arts Council hosted a reception on the bike trail across the Arkansas River.

“Endless retired steelworkers came out to thank me for mural dedication and honoring them,” Ramu said.

The levee mural, which began surreptitiously by the Tee Hee Painters in the 1970s, was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s largest outdoor mural.

Ramu began coordinating the mural painting project in 1988, using recycled paint for much of the work. Artists, students and other volunteers contributed over the years.

Ramu’s original reaction upon learning the murals would not only be cut in half but replaced with new concrete facing was: “That’s insane!”

Since that time, the Pueblo Conservancy District paid to produce a photographic record of the mural.

There have been community meetings about the future of paintings on the levee and how to preserve the memory.

A page on Facebook (Pueblo Levee Mural Project) is among several that shares past glories of the art endeavor.

The cost of saving significant sections and the brittle condition of 90-year-old concrete made salvage of the original mural impractical, and plans for future painting have not jelled.

But Ramu’s small-scale shrine to the levee mural already has become incorporated into the fabric of Pueblo’s history at the museum.

And, in the spirit of the Tee Hee Painters, a whimsical promise is painted into Ramu’s reproduction.

It reads: “Until we paint again!”

___

Information from: The Pueblo Chieftain, https://www.chieftain.com

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