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home >> teaching & workshops > first night, akron, ohio, 2002



Anitra Redlefsen, M.S.

First Night Akron
Mural and Picket Fences
December 31, 2001
click to enlarge

This was my sixth year as a First Night Akron visual artist, my husband and I have been doing this since the first event on December 31, 1996. As in past years, our goals were to create projects that are family oriented, interactive, educational and fun! We think that everyone had a wonderful time and we want to say THANKS SO MUCH! to all the families (over 450 folks) who joined us for this event!

Anitra and Dain



The evening at "Heritage Hall" at the Orangerie mall was dedicated to entertainment, education and embracing of the traditions of the many and diverse cultures that make up northeast Ohio. The focus for our visual art activities was "our neighborhoods and communities."

The first project was an interactive mural painting activity. The mural, designed by myself, is a playful and stylistic composition of landmark buildings in Akron with picket fences in front. (The buildings, from left to right are: the Akron Beacon Journal, University of Akron Polymer Building, St. Bernard Church, Canal Place Stadium, Inventure Place, and Stan Hywet.)

Drawing/mural design
First Night Akron Mural
Anitra Redlefsen, 2001
click to enlarge

The second project was the decoration of free standing picket fences which were designed and built by my husband, Dain. Each picket is 4 inches wide and 2 feet high; the total length of the fence was over 30 yards when we put them all together. Participants were encouraged to decorate the pickets with images and ideas that represented their cultural heritage, their communities and their neighborhoods. The finished fence represented the ideas and creative art of over 150 Akron families!

First Night Akron participants' decorated picket fences!
click to enlarge


Mural painting is one of the oldest of art forms, dating back to cave paintings executed somewhere between 15,000 B.C. to 10,000 B.C. Murals have recorded histories and told stories about the political, spiritual, economic and societal aspects of cultures from all over the world. I chose a mural painting for this yearís First Night event so that we too could tell a story about the city of Akron and the diverse and rich cultures which make it a great community in which to live. The separate colors and brush strokes that were made on the mural by First Night participants represented our uniqueness as individuals having different cultural backgrounds; the colors and brush strokes that overlap and touch each other represent our coming together for a common purpose or experience. The completed mural is a metaphor for how a community can be created from both diversity and unity.

I had kept the composition simple and abstract so that it might look really like any city with landmark buildings, as buildings are the outward, physical representation of the structure of a community. I added the picket fences in the foreground of the composition to represent the individual cultures and peoples that make up that community. The term picket comes from the late 17th century word piquet, meaning "pointed stake." Pickets have been used for many purposes over the years from tethering horses to serving as markers. The term picket also means to post troops as guards, to protest, and to enclose. I personally chose the subject of the picket fence because of itís symbolism of being a support and the idea that it takes more than one picket to make a picket fence! The analogy is our community; a single picket is beautiful and useful by itself, but how different it is when it combines with others in strength and support! For me, that is what community is all about -- appreciating and honoring the diversity and coming together in strength in support of common goals and interests.

First Night participants with their picket fence!
click to enlarge

THE PAINTING PROCESS! There are no right or wrong ways to apply a medium (such as paint) to a surface (like canvas); it is how the artist decides to proceed. It is like baking cookies, whether you sift and combine the dry ingredients first and blend the butter and sugar second, or visa versa, it makes no difference as long as some sort of strategy is taken and everything gets well blended in the end!

Master artists had their own special methods of painting; one method (used by the Impressionists, for example) was to paint complementary colors on the canvas (either next to or underneath each other) to optically color mix when seen visually by the viewer. I recently traveled to Chicago to see the exhibit "Van Gogh and Gauguin, The Studio of the South" and was impressed with both artistís techniques and compositions. One of my favorite paintings, was of course, the famous Van Gogh "Starry Night" which he painted just before his death. I decided to use this painting as an inspiration for the First Night mural.

My idea was to depict a night time scene (cool colors) with elements of day time included (warm colors). The composition is abstract in that the subjects have little detail and the focus is more about the colors and shapes. My intent was that the separate colors and brush strokes made on the mural by First Night participants would represent our uniqueness as individuals having different cultural backgrounds; the colors and brush strokes that overlap and touch each other would represent our coming together for a common purpose or experience. When completed the mural would be a metaphor for how a community can be created from both diversity and unity.

These are the steps (the order that the warm and cool colors were applied) that I used to create the 12" x 25" prototype for the 50" x 102" mural to be painted by First Night participants. We followed these same steps on New Yearís Eve to create our community mural!

"Starry Night in Akron"
12" x 25"
tempera on canvas
Anitra Redlefsen, 2001
click to enlarge


Apply a wash (mixture of paint and water) using warm colors (red, orange, yellow) to the buildings and the sky.

Step #1, warm color wash
click to enlarge

First Night Artist applying warm color wash to First Night Akron Mural!
click to enlarge

Apply a second, thin layer of washes with cool colors (blue, green, violet).

Step #2, cool color wash
click to enlarge

First Night Artists applying cool color washes over the warm on First Night Akron Mural!
click to enlarge

STEP #3 Apply the cool colors more thickly and give them warm highlights.

Step #3, cool color application more thickly with warm highlights
click to enlarge

First Night Artist applying the cool colors over warm and cool washes on the First Night Akron Mural!
click to enlarge

Red and Green
Yellow and Purple
Orange and Blue
(Christmas colors!)
(Easter colors!)
(the only other two compliments left to remember!)


Akron First Night Participants
50" x 102"
triptych, tempera on canvas
December 31, 2001
click to enlarge

On New Year's eve we followed this painting process; participants applied an underpainting with warm colors for two hours, followed by the application of cool colors on top of that for two hours. In the last minutes of painting, black outlines (some thin, some thicker) were applied to the shapes (buildings and pickets). In the finished mural (a triptych, meaning, three pieces) some underpainting remained warm while in other areas it peeks through and or color mixes with cool colors. Although there were over 50 different artists participating, each applying their own colors and brush strokes, the composition is unified because of the repetition of stars and swirls, simplified shapes, and the black outlines. Each panel has it's own style, while all three still fit together as one composition.


On January 2, both the mural and the picket fences were on display at Canal Place Stadium as part of the Olympic Torch event in Akron. The next stop, organized by First Night's Akron Downtown Partnership, is slated for the Orangerie Mall at Akron Centre in Akron. We will keep you posted with future venues for these great art pieces!

First Night Akron Picket Fences!
click to enlarge

Copyright © 2001 Anitra Redlefsen
Medina, Ohio 44256 Phone and FAX 330-723-6500
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