With progress comes loss, and for art lovers in the Fox Valley, it’s fair to say the Gabriel Furniture redevelopment put some butterflies in stomachs.
Friday brought some good news.
It isn’t yet known where, when or precisely how, though it’s promising that the bright butterflies that have adorned the Morrison Street side of the building will find new life elsewhere in Appleton.
Work began Friday to salvage “Be the Change,” a 2016 mural by artist Chad Brady. Although it’s a recent work, it quickly became a favorite and a signature of Downtown Appleton.
Appleton Alderman Alex Schultz led the effort to save the piece from the destruction.
Artist Chad Brady said he didn’t know what would become of the mural once work began to transform the 131-year-old downtown building into a mixed-use structure with retail and apartments.
“Alex said, ‘we’ve got to do something,’” Brady said.
Schultz said his role on the Common Council didn’t hurt as far as obtaining permission to at least make a salvage attempt.
And until Friday, they had no idea whether it would even be possible. They rolled up their sleeves and went to work.
Brady was uncertain what they’d encounter.
The mural was painted onto a thin stucco over mesh which was laid over a foam backing. They started the project with one of the smaller butterflies on Friday to get a sense of what they’d face. After success there, they got to work on the mural’s biggest section, were able to cut through to the foam, pull the stucco free from the wall and roll it much like a gigantic poster.
Schultz credited FORE Development for their willingness to allow them to attempt removal as well as their willingness to accommodate others who similarly sought to salvage pieces of the building’s long history. They only have a few days to remove the entire piece of artwork from the building and haul it away.
The removal will mean some cracking and damage. It’ll require some touch-up and rework.
But the possibilities remain open.
Brady said the theme of black and white butterflies breaking free from the page and into vivid color may take on new layer of meaning. The colorful butterflies could land at multiple locations through Appleton.
That’s the future.
On Friday, they breathed some relief in simply knowing the butterflies would at least have an opportunity to land.
They could have rested on the idea that there wouldn’t be a way; that the stucco would be too brittle.
The mental muscle and “what if” scenarios that went into salvaging the piece speaks to its meaning.
“It’s what the entire mural is about — imagination,” Brady said.