A liquor dealer's plan to paint over a mural on the former Community Mercantile building at Ninth and Mississippi streets has neighbors, artists and mural fans fuming.
Cork and Barrel owner Dan Blomgren said workers today will paint over the artwork on the side of his newly acquired location.
Blomgren said he understands the mural has sentimental value, but he wants to give the building a new look.
"Although I'm sympathetic to the desires of the painters of the mural, it doesn't fit with a liquor store," he said. "It's not the Merc anymore. It's a new building, a new business and with that change, the mural is coming down."
Blomgren envisions a gold building with blue accent stripes.
But dozens of mural fans and neighbors are partial to the pastel and earth tones of the mural.
"I think it's insane," said Amy Higgins, body care manager at the Merc. "Why would you paint over a piece of art? How could you paint anything better?"
Many Lawrence residents have grown fond of the mural, called "Seeds," Higgins said. It was completed in December 1996. Nearly 40 residents worked on the mural for eight months.
Muralist David Loewenstein received permission from the Merc to use the building's east wall and secured a Lawrence Arts Commission grant to cover costs. Though he has since painted dozens of murals across the world, "Seeds" is particularly meaningful to him.
"It's one of the first murals I've done," he said. "It pulled together history and culture and symbolism all in one work. For it to come down is a very terrible thing for me."
The mural includes a textual message, partially illegible after Tuesday's power cleaning in anticipation of new paint: "We cannot sow seeds with clenched fists. To sow we must open fists," the mural reads.
Lawrence and Kansas imagery is used in seven scenes to depict the four natural elements and the process of sowing and reaping.
Loewenstein sent Blomgren a letter signed by five other people explaining the mural's significance when Cork and Barrel took over the lease a few weeks ago. Blomgren said he briefly decided to retain the mural, but reconsidered.
"I figured we'd catch hell for painting over that mural," said Dan Mclean, job foreman for Johnson Construction. "But, oh well. The guy bought the building, so I guess he can do what he wants with it."
Blomgren actually leases the building; Douglas County records list the building's owner as the Michael J. and Donna K. Messina Trust.
Workers power-washed the mural Tuesday to remove dirt and loose paint. As they did, residents began spreading the word that the mural was to be destroyed.
By the end of the day, several e-mail messages were circulating, and people were stopping by Blomgren's office to voice opposition.
"I think this would be bad for (Blomgren's) business because a lot of people who are currently his customers are in disagreement with him, and I expressed that in person today," said Carrie Pettus, a Kansas University graduate student. "It's a lose-lose situation."
Lawrence resident Will Spotts watched the mural go up while he tended the Community Garden across the street in 1996. He said many people would be sad to see it go.
"I like that piece it's got a really good message, and it's a damn fine painting," he said. "It's not like it's an eyesore."
Blomgren said that even though he can't budge on the mural, as a longtime Lawrence resident and business owner, he wants to support the community as much as possible. One way is by paying the Community Garden's water bill.
"I'm not the GAP, where the money is going out of town," he said. "I'm 100 percent Lawrence."