Color them cool: Walldogs to paint Plymouth

Who doesn’t want to leave their mark on the world before leaving it? Hundreds of strangers will do just that in Plymouth this month, and the community of 8,000 seems to welcome it.

About 160 artists – billboard painters, graphic designers, portrait artists and more – from throughout the U.S., Canada and Germany will migrate to this Sheboygan County city on June 22. They are known as the Walldogs and aim to paint 21 murals in four days.

Average people who have no art experience are welcome to help, for as much or little time as they want. “You could actually have a hand on almost every mural,” observes Debbie Karr, a Florida artist with Plymouth roots who is the event host.

The Walldogs are coming to Plymouth because the community is investing $123,000 to bring them here. The artists take time off of work and pay their own transportation. All, except project leaders – who get nominal honorariums, work for free. Plymouth also provides lodging, meals, painting equipment and supplies.

“The networking is what I’m mainly interested in,” says Debbie, who has participated in other Walldog projects. “You can learn about new skills, techniques, easier ways to do work. It’s kind of a retreat and, as you get to know the others, a reunion.”

Related activities play off the work themes and workers’ name. Dozens of canines – average mutts to community service dogs – get their day at the Doggie Parade on June 25. Free movies with dog themes will be shown at the public library. Cheese tastings and grilled cheese sandwich sales are scheduled, too, as is a June 24 auction of wooden rocking chairs painted by local artists.

Cheese events pay homage to local cheese production and the Plymouth Cheese Exchange, where cheese prices used to be set on Friday afternoons, heavily influencing national prices until the procedure changed in 1955.

Artists painted 40 wooden chairs for the auction because of Plymouth Rocker Company, a manufacturer that ceased business more than 70 years ago.

Serious discussion about building murals began in 2005, after Jerry Thompson of the Plymouth Downtown Revitalization Committee saw two murals in Omro that added artistic flair while explaining local history. He wanted the same effect in Plymouth.

“We wanted a ‘wow’ factor that would enhance our appearance and draw attention while telling a story,” he explains.

The city already had one mural, about dairy heritage, inside its post office. Then Jerry pushed for the financing of an exterior mural, which depicts the heyday of interurban streetcars. A couple of years later, Debbie was commissioned to restore a Cream of Wheat Flour mural, which was merely a ghost on the outside of the local history museum.

Both murals are easy to spot when walking on Mill Street, the city’s main drag, and that’s where most of the Walldog murals will go. A flour mill mural is matched to a building near the original mill site. A Plymouth Bottling Works mural will appear at the location of the original plant.

Research results in historically accurate designs. The dog in the Plymouth Review mural looks a lot like Fly, the newspaper’s present mascot. In the county fair mural are auto and surrey races, reminiscent of the event’s history.

Other designs are devoted to Plymouth Maid Ketchup, Hi Ho Soda and other long-standing to long-vanished businesses. Completion of 21 murals will be a record for the Walldogs, surpassing 18 created in 2009 in Pontiac, Ill. (two artists who met there will marry in Plymouth this month – another Walldog “first.”).

“It was an eight-month process to decide what should be on the murals,” Jerry says. Then he needed to convince appropriate groups – churches to veterans – to welcome the mural additions. Seven of the 21 will be painted onto aluminum panels and bolted to buildings; the others will be painted right onto the exterior.

“It was a joy to find out history that I didn’t know,” Debbie says. She and Jerry used old advertisements, century-old photos and other artifacts to ensure historical accuracy in concepts and detail.

Two other Wisconsin cities – Algoma and Chippewa Falls – have hosted the annual Walldog events. The latter was called Brush Bash and it “certainly made our downtown come alive,” says Teri Ouimette, executive director of Chippewa Falls Main Street. Promotional materials make it easy for visitors to find the 25 murals, created in 2002 and 2006 during gatherings by the Walldogs and a related group, the Letterheads (craftsmen who paint signs by hand; more at letterville.com).

The Walldogs gathered in Algoma in 2007, and what the city got was “a Main Street that kind of freezes itself in time,” says Dave Petri, the event’s Walldog host. “It’s not like what Port Plaza did in the 1970s to Green Bay, taking away the area’s early European influences.”

He says the Walldogs want to work with cities that show respect for local history and architectural preservation.

Dave will be in charge of one of Plymouth’s murals. “By the time the dust settles, you’ll know you’ve gotten something special,” he says.

For more about the June 22-26 mural project in Plymouth: www.plymouthwalldogs.com, 920-892-6921. Click “event schedule” for details or to download a map of painting locations.

For more about the Walldogs and their other projects: thewalldogs.com. Communities that sponsor a Walldogs project choose mural themes that are relevant to local history.

In the Plymouth Walldogs group are Wisconsin artists who are project leaders for four of the 21 murals: Dave Petri of Green Bay, who designed a Sheboygan County Fair mural; Andy Goretski of Tomahawk, Mullet River flour mill and dam mural; Brad Bandow of Williams Bay, church history mural; and Bernie Poff of Prairie du Sac, Plymouth Cheese Exchange mural.

Other Wisconsin Walldogs who are registered for the Plymouth event include Tyler Quimby of Beloit; Karen Brietzman of Campbellsport; Susie DeGroff of Cascade; Al Joppe of Green Bay; Judy Delain of Luxemburg; Chris Barry, Alicia Rheal and Bryan Whiting of Madison; Robare Novou of Milwaukee; Morgan McArthur of New Berlin; Roberta Coppersmith, Kerri Hoehn, Nicole Pauley, Dori Schmitz and Betty Wilson of Plymouth; Chance Harrison, Erin Haskell and Christina McKeefry of Porterfield; Dale Manor of Racine; Keith Anderson, Sara Gatyas and Dale Knaak of Sheboygan; Judy Sizonen of Sheboygan Falls; Dan Gardiner of Sun Prairie; Rick Christel of Valders; Heather Keenan of Wauwatosa; and Kit Bandow of Williams Bay.

What else should you notice in Plymouth, home to my high school alma mater?

Chester’s Drive-in, 1504 Eastern Ave., grills a great burger: high-quality beef, slipped into a buttered Sheboygan hardroll. Chester’s Special – a burger, fries and root beer – will set you back $5. 920-892-7722

The 19 homey guest rooms at 52 Stafford, 52 Stafford St., are named after Irish patriots. Restored woodwork and an abundance of stained and etched windows are a part of what makes the building special. It also is on the National Register of Historic Places. So book a room, order a lamb shank at the inn’s dressy restaurant or tip a pint in the pub, where Irish music is performed on Wednesday nights. www.52stafford.com, 800-421-4667

My father’s 75-year collection of Native American artifacts is on permanent exhibit at the Plymouth Historical Society Museum, 420 E. Mill St. The museum freezes the clock in myriad other ways, including the setup of a Victorian dining room. www.plymouthhistoricalsociety.com, 920-893-1876

Free band concerts in City Park happen on Thursday nights during summer. Bike riders use the 17-mile, paved Old Plank Road Trail (which follows Hwy. 23 from Sheboygan to Greenbush) or venture off-road in the Kettle Moraine State Forest, five miles northwest of Plymouth.

For more about the area: www.plymouthwisconsin.com, 888-693-8263.

All “Roads Traveled” columns are archived at roadstraveled.com. These articles began in 2002 and are the result of anonymous travel, independent travel, press trips and travel journalism conferences. What we choose to cover is not contingent on subsidized or complimentary travel.