The 8-by-32-foot mural on the brick wall along State Street, part of the CVS Pharmacy building, was created by Farmington Hills resident John Martin.

The 8-by-32-foot mural on the brick wall along State Street, part of the CVS Pharmacy building, was created by Farmington Hills resident John Martin.

Photo by Deb Jacques

Farmington Hills man’s art selected for mural project

By: Sherri Kolade | Farmington Press | Published December 18, 2018


FARMINGTON — The large brick wall along State Street, part of the CVS Pharmacy building, 23391 Farmington Road, was a blank canvas.

Now it is home to an eye-catching mural.

The vibrant mural is 8 feet tall and 32 feet wide, displaying images that devout Farmington residents might recognize — or not.

From local wine label names to nods to the rich cultures in the city, the mural captures what some might say is quintessentially Farmington.

Nathan Power — the son of Arthur Power, Farmington’s first settler, and known to have helped slaves escape captivity — is on the mural with Elton John-esque star-shaped sunglasses.

“It’s just a reference that he’s a rock star,” said Farmington Hills resident John Martin, who created the mural.

Also on the mural is an image of a streetcar from the Detroit United Railway line.

Martin, who has a studio at the Farmington Winery, 31505 Grand River Ave., said that the line ran from the late 1800s to the mid-1900s in the city and locally.

He said that Zap Zone, 31506 Grand River Ave., is currently located where former streetcars in the rail lines were housed.

“This winery, before it was a winery, was a powerhouse for electricity for that line,” Martin said. “This line from Farmington junction, which people now call The Winery, went from here to Keego Harbor and back. Here to Detroit and back. Here to Northville and back. That’s all this line did. Then it became obsolete.”

The historical, sometimes forgotten snippets — and very much present happenings in Farmington — are featured on the mural that Martin was able to express by winning an inaugural mural competition.

Downtown Farmington’s first official mural project was installed in mid-December.

Martin — the city of Farmington Hills’ artist in residence and a College for Creative Studies professor — had his work selected by the Public Art Committee, which was established by Farmington’s Downtown Development Authority.

Earlier this year, Farmington’s Public Art Program project was created to promote visual arts in Farmington’s public spaces by requesting original two-dimensional murals from Michigan artists.

The project is a partnership between the Farmington DDA and businesses within the downtown area, the release states.

Participating artists were encouraged to use local neighborhoods and cultures as inspiration for their designs, according to the release, and works could be representational or abstract in nature.

Committee Chair AJ Cooke said in a press release that the committee members are “thrilled” to display the mural in downtown Farmington, and they are planning more creative projects.

She said in the release that Martin’s mural shone.

“Though we received several aesthetically appealing designs through our open call to art, John Martin’s submission was ultimately chosen because of its balanced composition and historical references. We were intrigued by its throwback iconography — some of which is instantly recognizable, while others perhaps require research — all collaged together in one saturated graphic.”

According to the release, the mural is supposed to “entice” both art lovers and history buffs alike.

Mural fabrication and installation took place through a grant awarded to the Farmington Downtown Development Authority by Flagstar Bank, in partnership with Main Street Oakland County, the release states.

Kate Knight, executive director of the Farmington Downtown Development Authority, said in an email that the DDA will be hosting a chat with the artist this winter at a downtown watering hole. More details are coming soon on that event.

“The DDA’s Public Art Committee issued a call for artists in early 2018 with the theme ‘Cultivating Community,’” she said. “John Martin’s winning concept really used local Farmington culture as inspiration. It was a strong first mural for our downtown and a fitting second project for the DDA.”

The first project was installing three David Barr sculptures in Riley Park last summer.

Knight added that downtown Farmington is implementing its Public Art Blueprint, which is a plan that came from a 2017 survey among downtown businesses, residents and schools that showed a strong demand for art in the downtown.

“Look for more DDA projects, with both longer-term installations — like the sculpture and mural — and pop-up experiences,” she said.

Martin said that a bird, a chimney swift, is featured on the mural because it is a common bird seen locally, and the birds come into The Winery.

Below that is an ox head image.

“We are famous for our ox roast here,” he said. “It’s like pulled pork-looking. For years … they’ve been doing that.”

The words “Farmington,” “willkommen” and “benvenuto,” among others, welcome people to the city.

“Arabic, there is Israeli, Lithuanian, Russian, Chinese, Japanese (words). I’ve even got one or two African languages,” Martin said. “It’s personal to me. I’m some of these races myself: German, English and Italian. My wife is Spanish. My neighborhood where I live in Farmington Hills, we have a lot of Chaldeans, Arabs. I see at Starbucks a lot of Albanians, Russians.”

Martin said that it took him 60-80 hours of work to complete the mural.

“I didn’t do it all in one sitting. I started it when the contest was announced,” he said.

He said his daughter suggested that he do something colorful, and he ran with it.

The bright blues, purples and other tones are complementary to the pops of color happening across the street at the Farmington Civic Theater’s red building and John Cowley & Sons’ blue building.

“I wanted to show similar colors on the other side of the city,” Martin said, adding that while he can’t make everyone happy — some were critical of his image choices — he said it’s a good conversation starter.

“I think it is a good entry for the city to do other things now.”

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