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Two new murals for Pontiac: The Oakland Press

Charles Malone was waiting in line at the Oakland Hope in Pontiac when he saw an artist with dozens of spray paint cans and a bright yellow metal scaffolding.

Malone grabbed his phone and snapped some photos. He wasn’t the only one who noticed artist Zach Curtis working in the scorching heat last week. Curtis, 29, of Waterford, has created murals throughout Michigan and the United States, and some in Mexico as well. He has had a Pontiac studio for five years and aims to create a new mural every year in the city.

The artist Zach Curtis
Artist Zach Curtis said a mask is essential equipment for his wall painting projects. (Peg McNichol / MediaNewsGroup)

“The artist deserves a big shout out,” said Chris Gonzalez, who stopped on his way through the parking lot to observe Curtis’ work. “He’s really cool.”

Pontiac’s Steve Wheeler agreed.

“That’s great. What an artist, huh?” Wheeler said admiring the design.

Norma Okonski, founder and executive director of Oakland Hope, said the design on the building at 20 E. Walton Blvd. and across Baldwin Avenue is “fantastic.”

He called art “a great way to increase community pride” and it adds to Pontiac’s gateway designs. When the mural is complete, it will include a space where people can take selfies, she said.

Each face is a real person, Curtis said.

The artist Zach Curtis
Artist Zach Curtis lives in Waterford and works in Pontiac. He has created murals in the United States and Mexico. (Peg McNichol / MediaNews Group)

Okonski said the decision to place the city’s new mural in Pontiac’s District 4 will have “the greatest impact” on people visiting the Oakland Hope thrift store and food pantry, which serves 9,000 people a month.

The theme is farm-to-table, featuring a family, a farmer, Oakland Hope volunteers, and a host of vibrant fruit and vegetable images to encourage healthy eating.

Okonski is planning a neighborhood party on Thursday 30 June to celebrate art. The details for children’s food and entertainment are still being worked out, she said.

The artist Zach Curtis
Artist Zach Curtis adds to his mural in Oakland Hope during the scorching heat of Wednesday June 15, 2022. (Peg McNichol / MediaNews Group)

Curtis’ next project is in the heart of downtown Pontiac, on the garage wall of the Riker building at 35 W. Huron St., a place he called his “wall of dreams.”

Curtis created a Kickstarter account to raise $ 12,600.

On Wednesday, $ 12,620 had been committed to make a 50 x 60-foot portrait of Elizabeth Denison Forth, a enslaved woman who gained her freedom and enough wealth to become Pontiac’s first landowner and philanthropist.

“He is a very historic character in Pontiac history. She has done amazing things… she has been a great helper to the communities around here, ”she said. “I don’t know if everyone knows it … I wanted to make it educational.”

The artist Zach Curtis
Artist Zach Curtis works on his latest project, in Oakland Hope, visible from Baldwin Avenue just south of East Walton Boulevard on Wednesday, June 15, 2022. (Peg McNichol / MediaNews Group)

Tim Shepard, owner of Riker Properties, said he had long wanted to see that art on display. His mother, Claudia Shepard, has taught at Wayne State University, the Center for Creative Studies and the Detroit Institute of Arts.

Shepard’s only guideline for Curtis: be creative, but not offensive. She is happy to hear that the community has donated enough money to support Curtis’ portrayal of Denison Forth.

Curtis’s murals are, Shepard said, “a good and a positive thing in a world where not a lot of good things happen.”

Oakland Hope mural detail
Detail of the mural in progress at Oakland Hope in Pontiac. (Peg McNichol / MediaNews Group)

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