Those who live in Billings are likely familiar with the “Rise and Shine” mural, painted by Billings artist Elyssa Leininger in 2020, designed to brighten up the area around Sixth Avenue and State Street. A project that took more than 2,000 hours to complete.
That work was damaged recently as contractors were nearing completion of a major project to improve the underpass.
"Unfortunately some of the details of the mural were destroyed. So, in order for it to look like its original state, I will have to mix my special colors and kind of fix those lines and the little details, some of those fine details. So, it will take me a good while to repair it, a lot of hours and a lot of time," said Elyssa Leininger, Billings artist and creator of the mural, on Thursday.
Some of her work was destroyed in just minutes, when crews started cleaning the mural to apply an anti-graffiti coating to it.
"Knowing she put work into this, we did not want to damage it, so they power washed it the first time and it was still too dirty. So, we asked to clean it again the second time with her recommended simple green solution. And to wash off the soap, they power washed it again, and that’s when the paint started coming off," said Kristine Williams, civil engineering tech for the Montana Department of Transportation, on Thursday.
"There are some spots where you can see where it’s definitely the pressure from the nozzle, where it’s crisp lines where it just sprayed off the coating and the paint and the masonry primer. I did not recommend power washing it," added Leininger.
Leininger says she’s perhaps most frustrated because she says she offered to clean the mural herself. Something she’s done many times before.
"I did put in a bid to clean it and I would’ve done the same process that I’ve done before, but they discussed with me how they would like to clean it themselves," Leininger added.
Leininger noticed the damage to her work and reached out to DOWL, the project engineer, and Riverside Contracting, which did the work. Riverside, along with the Department of Transportation, are now working with her to repair the damage and compensate her for her work.
"Unfortunately with this weather, I think it might need to wait until spring. The products need to be applied in relatively warm weather for them to cure and for them to last. That’s a big part of this mural is that I really want it to last for generations," Leininger said.
"The artist, Elyssa, has been incredibly accommodating and easy to work with and of course this was not the intended outcome, but we are committed to making it right," said Megan McLean, project communications coordinator for DOWL, said on Thursday.
"Hindsight, should we have had her do the work, probably. Moving forward with the other murals in town, should we keep that on the backside? Sure," added Williams.
As for Leininger, that’s all she asks for, knowing the time it takes to create a mural like this.
A project that was much more than just a job.
"I don’t think anybody else could truly understand my connection to the mural. So, I feel that I’m ultimately the one that will be putting the most care and time into the mural," Leininger said.