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Artist who painted iconic Uptown tree mural is 'ecstatic it's still there'

A mural painted in Uptown Normal a dozen years ago continues to embody the spirit of growth, said Lauran Bryant, the artist who created it.
Charlie Schlenker
A mural painted in Uptown Normal a dozen years ago continues to embody the spirit of growth, said Lauran Bryant, the artist who created it.

An iconic mural in Uptown Normal received a visit Friday from the artist who created it. No, not the controversial mural near the east side of the Constitution Trail, but the one on the north outside wall of Medici Restaurant west of the trail.

Lauran Bryant painted the mural of a gnarled and craggy mulberry tree a dozen years ago when Uptown was torn up and in the middle of a revitalization plan.

At the time, Bryant was a recent Illinois State University graduate and a server at the restaurant. She made a proposal for the painting when restaurant owner Hans Morsbach announced a commission opportunity. The mural images the tree inside the restaurant.

Bryant said she's pleased Normal has embraced the mural and the restaurant.

"I'm so ecstatic that it's still there. And it looks in pretty good shape. So, I'm impressed that my work has held up over these last 12 years," said Bryant, adding the intent of the art was to evoke Morsbach's view of the tree as eternal growth.

"Really, it was supposed to bring the inner beauty of Medici to the community by having it on the exterior of the building, facing College Avenue," said Bryant.

Bryant said she is happy with the technique she used back then. From a distance, the impression is of the color brown, but closer in, she said there is an array of color palate there, including bronze and copper.

"It was it was probably the largest mural I have done height-wise. So it is very memorable for me, because I've never had to rent a scissor lift for any other mural I've done," she said.

Bryant is pleased it's held up so well, which is a testament to the prep work she did in having the wall power washed, priming it, and taking pains to cover it with a preservative.

"I think a lot of muralists think, 'Oh, I'm using exterior house paint, it will be fine. I don't have to seal it.' But for longevity, you definitely need a good top coat, a good sealer. Otherwise, I don't feel like the elements are very kind to murals," said Bryant.

Bryant said she had fun doing the project and working at Medici, noting she still keeps track of some of her co-workers from those days.

"That actual tree inside the building is impressive. They helicoptered that in and, it was like, the tree of growth, even though it's not alive," she said. "But I feel like the community really has connected with the building and Medic, and hopefully, you know, the community will still thrive and keep growing."

Now living in Colorado, Bryant has thought about the mural periodically over the last dozen years. Her initial drawing and proposal to Morsbach have surfaced several times as she moved and she has wondered how it was doing. Now she knows. It's faring well.

She started thinking about returning to Normal to see the mural again after connecting with Larry Carius, who writes about the Bloomington-Normal Restaurant Scene on Facebook. Bryan says still likes painting, but said she now mainly works in reclaimed wood.

WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.
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