Two new hidden murals in Howell feature gangsters, opera themes

Two new murals are "hidden" in Howell, slightly off the beaten path.

The artworks are outside for easy access, but both are located behind buildings, in alleyways.

They both also feature historic scenes – one from the 1920s and the other from the late 1800s.

Artist Stacy Karnes and his assistant, Kelly Beacome, completed their painting of a “1920s speak easy street scape” on Tuesday, about 15 days after they began. The mural graces two walls of the building that houses 2FOG's Pub. However, much like first-time patrons of the pub, art aficionados may also pass the building located at 118 West Grand River without knowing the entrance, and now the painting, is behind it.

As one turns on to Walnut and then into the alley, the eyes are presented with the first view of Karnes’ work – with two gangsters styled from the roaring 20s era in which American mobster Al Capone was notorious and later brought down by special law enforcement agent Eliot Ness.

“What I like about it the most is that it is in black and white,” Karnes said Wednesday. “It’s different for a change.”

In Karnes’ scene, one gangster is depicted with a cigar in his mouth, the other with a cigarette, and both hold Tommy guns in their hands. One is out in front of a classic car with the arched windows of a storefront in the background, while the second gangster is on the passenger side of the car. A woman is seated in the rear of the vehicle, with the door open and her leg extended as she prepares to exit.

The car is what Karnes calls a “never was,” his own creation that features components from different makes of vehicles, including Ford, Pontiac and Dodge.

Karnes was commissioned for the mural after 2FOG's Pub owner Joe Parker saw him working on the nearly 150-foot long mural depicting the city of Howell and events associated with it, including the Michigan Challenge Balloonfest and Howell MelonFest, on the concrete wall in “the pit” parking lot across the street from the alley at Walnut and Clinton streets. A concrete mason by trade who has enjoyed art as a hobby since childhood, encouraged by several teachers, Karnes completed that mural, his first, last year  on behalf of the Downtown Development Authority.

His new mural is based on the speakeasy theme found in the pub, which is located in the basement of the building.

In total, the 2FOG's mural required a gallon of black paint and one of white for mixing purposes, as well as three cans of gray, and many more hours of work over the course of the two weeks. Besides the storefront scene, the art offers another surprise when you turn yet another corner and find a wall painted as its own alley – with a trashcan that appears to have been dumped by a warthog (the 2FOG's mascot) and garbage strewn along the base. Look closer and see a mouse with cheese on the corner.

Most difficult was getting everything to scale and Karnes is glad to have completed the work.

“I’m good for maybe one of these per year,” he said. “You get burned out on these really quick… You get the vision nearly done, think you will be done in a day and you’re there another three days. But when people walk by, all the positive comments are cool.”

Joe Matley, 2FOG's general manager, is pleased with the new mural that fits the pub’s theme.

“It was time for a change and this is awesome,” he said.

Nearby, there is another mural that is not yet complete, located in the “cove area” behind the Howell Opera House which is across Grand River from 2FOG's.

Also hidden from plainview, this mural depicts a scene from the upstairs interior of the Opera House from the Victorian era. Silhouetted images of men and woman sit and stand at tables that are in the balcony area of the historic building, overlooking a stage and performers cast in color.

Liz Rowse of Howell is the lead artist on the Livingston Fine Arts Association and Livingston Arts Council project and has been assisted by several others, including Shirley Spears, Joyce Colaluca, Diane Pearson, Diane Brady, Janet Gray, Delphine Frank and Armayne Lyons.

“All of us love this place,” said Rowse earlier this month as she and Spears worked to bring the historic scene to life. “My hope is people will see this and support the Opera House and they will come visit and take tours upstairs. What a gem it is for the community.”

Rowse, 67 and a Howell Township resident, and Spears, a 74-year-old resident of Oceola Township, both have a lifelong love of art, but are retired from other professions. Rowse was a special education teacher for 20 years, and Spears was a registered nurse for 37 years.

Using a concrete wall as a canvas in their painting hobby is new to both and they power washed it in the fall, before giving it the first coat of primer paint on May 1. They are using a grid to help with scale on the image and were also experimenting with color a week later.

This week, the project was near completion.

“Howell needs art,” said Fisher, explaining how the mural came to fruition. “Art is a very important part of everyday life. I have been looking at that wall for a long time and thought—‘It could be home to a mural.’”

Now it will be, along with Karnes’ murals across the street behind 2FOG's and in “the pit” parking lot, as well as another mural in Howell that depicts a portrait of a lady, and located behind the Silver Pig in the same alley as the Opera House mural.

“I’m excited about all these murals—they add a lot to the community,” Fisher said, adding she would like to see more, perhaps one on the side of the Marco’s Pizza building.

If a mural finds a home there, however, it won’t be Karnes painting it, as it would be higher on the wall than he would be willing to reach.

“I don’t do ladders,” Karnes said simply, although he adds he would love to paint a mural in the lengthy “Peanut Alley” corridor between Clinton Street and Grand River.

“There should be more murals in Howell,” he said. “When done by a brush and by hand, it has meaning behind it. I think it has soul.”

Susan Bromley, Livingston DailyPublished 2:22 p.m. ET May 24, 2018