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New Berlin City Hall mural reaches intersection of Then and Now

New artwork says something about New Berlin today

Dec. 16, 2013

New Berlin — As visitors to City Hall gaze at the new mural 2-1/2-stories high, one element might seem familiar in what otherwise at first appears to be a fanciful depiction.

The mural's central focus — a streetlight with its ornate Victorian flavor — is modeled after the decorative lights outside the New Berlin Public Library. On the other hand, you won't find the intersection of City Street and Rural Lane anywhere on the map.

But even that fictional element serves an important purpose, pointing to New Berlin's dual character consisting of both city and country life, said artist Cal Kothrade, who donated his services to create the mural.

"It's a new dawning age for the city component," Kothrade said.

City officials agree and they wanted the mural to reflect that. To further bring home the point, the city's new banner that emphasizes the city/country nature of New Berlin is attached to the streetlamp.

A new view

Feeling it was time to freshen up the gateway to city government, the city last year put out a call for artists to do a mural for the City Hall's expansive lobby.

The previous mural, done by four Catholic Memorial High School students featuring New Berlin through the seasons, had been there since 1998. But the city is re-branding itself in a variety of ways, including the use of a new logo that appears most prominently on the city water tower near Interstate 43.

"Usually when you re-brand, you're trying to revitalize the image and make it more current," said New Berlin Mayor Dave Ament.

And the new mural is perfectly aligned with the city's emphasis on being a city with a touch of country, he said.

"I like the fact that it's simple — you get the meaning right away," Ament said. "And it's bright and eye-catching as you walk in. A lot of times with the old one there wasn't enough color and light to show it off."

Ament paid tribute to Kothrade and fellow artist David Gass, who helped paint the mural.

"They both donated their time," he said, noting the importance of such volunteer efforts in making city government complete.

Artistic touches

Kothrade, a New Berlin native, saw his efforts as a way to show his appreciation of the community.

"I love living in New Berlin, and this was a great way to give back to the community," he said.

He and Gass, an art teacher with the Milwaukee Public Schools, put in a total of about 50 hours over a single weekend to produce the giant mural, which is 20 feet wide and 14 feet tall. Mounted 10 feet above the floor, the mural stands as tall as a house.

While the idea of the mural was simple, its execution was complex.

To get the proportions just right on the 280-square-foot image, they spent four hours on a Friday night after the City Hall closed snapping chalk lines to create a grid of 2-foot squares. Then they drew the whole mural in chalk, guided by a picture Kothrade had drawn on a sheet of paper.

After-hours process

The painting itself took 10-hour days both Saturday and Sunday. They knew if they didn't get it done on the weekend, the scaffolding the city provided would be in the way when City Hall opened on Monday morning.

Still, they also wanted to make sure they didn't sacrifice anything in the process.

"We knew if we didn't do a really good job, the idea wouldn't come off," Kothrade said.

But the mural turned out just as they had hoped with details such as reflections of the banner in the street signs, the shininess of the metal lamp, the stitched seams in the banner and the changing colors of the sunset, he said. He's pleased that viewers can gaze at the mural for a long time and see these nuances reveal themselves, he said.

About the artist

Cal Kothrade is:

· An award winning maritime artist, underwater photographer and published dive travel author, specializing in wreck mosaic photography, digital renderings, and fine art paintings;

· Founder and producer of the Milwaukee Amateur Underwater Film Festival;

· Founder of the Great Lakes Shipwreck Photo Contest that started this year;

· Curator of the Our World Underwater Art Flows like Water Art Exhibition;

· Founder of Milwaukee Dive Apparel, a designer/retailer of unique and custom apparel, art and photography for Great Lakes divers, clubs and resorts.

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