Oktoberfest muralist blends vibrant colors, emotional meaning

Oktoberfest muralist blends vibrant colors, emotional meaning

From the Here's at look back at Oktoberfest 2018 in La Crosse series
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Oktoberfest Mural

University of Wisconsin-La Crosse art major Baley Murphy worked 40 to 45 weeks over a four-week period to paint her German flag-themed butterfly mural at the South Side Oktoberfest grounds in La Crosse. The mural, unveiled Tuesday, is expected to attract festgoers to take portraits of themselves with the butterfly. Jennifer Williams, Murphy's mural teacher at UW-L, stressed "portraits" instead of "selfies."

Baley Murphy’s nontraditional design for the Oktoberfest mural she crafted has plenty of conventional wisdom: She incorporated the popularity of butterflies in the Coulee Region and the sentimental value butterflies hold in her family — as a symbol of her grandmother.

The mural, unveiled Tuesday on the South Side festgrounds, features a palette of bright colors with several layers of meaning.

Murphy’s avant garde depiction of a butterfly features the black, red and yellow stripes of the German flag, with bright circles of color reminiscent of a butterfly’s markings. At the bottom left corner is a lederhosen figure noting the 58th annual Oktoberfest, while an edelweiss, a mountain flower, at the bottom right surrounding her initials, BAM, signifies the German heritage of the festival, said the 22-year-old art student at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.

Across the top is the message, “You are Gemütlichkeit!” The German word conveys the friendliness and good cheer typical of Oktoberfest.

But the butterfly is closest to her heart, an homage to her grandmother on her father’s side.

“She died before I was born, and maybe because I am like her, every time we saw a butterfly, we would talk about Nani,” she said.

“There are so many monarchs and crows around,” she said. “Grandma was really wicked, and she could feed crows out of her hand.”

To clarify, that’s “wicked” in a positive sense.

Murphy, who spent 40 to 45 hours over four weeks creating the mural, acknowledged her design is atypical of maple leafs, steins, pretzels and other items in much Oktoberfest art.

“It’s a little different — you wouldn’t expect it for Oktoberfest,” although some people have told her they can see maple leaves from some angles, she said.

Murphy revels in such reactions, which she said allow observers to exercise the same creative juices in imagining what they see as she did in creating the mural.

Don’t question Murphy’s German lineage, despite the surname from her father, Brian. Her German blood is courtesy of her mother, Deanna, she said with an Irish glint in her eye and a leprechaun grin on her face.

The senior art major, who is minoring in psychology on a track to earn a master’s in art therapy, describes the technique she used on the mural and her other artwork as the “style of my soul.”

As a student at Holmen High School, she said, “I discovered I see things in a very different way, with a heightened sense of color.”

That is reflected in her use of vibrant colors in a “very free-flowing style,” she said.

“I don’t like just straight lines,” she said, preferring instead what she called a “magic realization” of ideas in her work.

“That’s the thing I love about art,” she said. “Some people can nail it, with a door that is perfectly straight and proportioned. Others, it’s the shape, how they see the world.”

Murphy, who is minoring in psychology, plans to get a master’s degree in art therapy, a shift from her original goal to become a biochemist.

“I wanted to cure cancer, because breast cancer killed my grandma,” she said, adding with a sheepish grin, “but I wasn’t really the best at it.”

Art therapy will allow her to combine her interests in art and science “to help people,” she said.

“People are zoned by stress, anxiety and depression,” she said. “Art can be helpful and therapeutic.”

She confirmed that belief and her life’s goal last summer as a creative art director at a camp for disabled children in Indiana, she said.

Murphy gives a nod for collaborating on the design to her mural teacher, Jennifer Williams, who described Murphy as “one amazing artist, and this came together beautifully.”

“She really embodies the spirit of experimentation in her work,” Williams said. The mural is “very expressive instead of graphic. It has so much energy, and it really has the embodiment of activities that happen during Oktoberfest.”

Oktoberfest-goers should feel free to take portraits of themselves — “not selfies, but portraits,” Williams emphasized — with the mural, to interact with the art, Murphy said.

“It is such an honor to have my art displayed at such an iconic area in my hometown, and I hope everyone can enjoy the interactive nature of my artwork,” she said.

Mike Tighe can be reached at mtighe@lacrossetribune.com, or follow him on Twitter, @necktye.


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