Jennifer Ramirez, of Madison Heights, paints a phoenix onto the wall of the shelter building at Huffman Park Aug. 28.

Jennifer Ramirez, of Madison Heights, paints a phoenix onto the wall of the shelter building at Huffman Park Aug. 28.

Photo by Erin Sanchez

Latest outdoor mural takes shape in Madison Heights

‘Mythical Creatures’ brings sense of wonder to Huffman Park

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison-Park News | Published September 1, 2022

MADISON HEIGHTS — Massive murals continue to pop up in Madison Heights, turning empty walls into expansive fantasy worlds and scenes of natural splendor.

The latest is “Mythical Creatures,” on the four walls of the shelter building at Huffman Park, located at 400 W. Cowan Ave. in Madison Heights. Jennifer Ramirez, a high school art teacher and 19-year resident of Madison Heights, began painting in late July, while juggling several other murals, including one at the Madison Heights Police Department and another at Woodpile BBQ Shack. She believes she will have the entire project finished by the end of September.

“For the Huffman Park mural, I wanted to create a mural that was more for kids. I wanted to inspire a sense of wonder and magic in those that encounter it. As a child, and still as an adult, I love mythology and mythical creatures. I’m hoping it will encourage kids’ imaginations,” Ramirez said in an email interview.

“Whenever I’m presented with a choice of designing a mural for one wall or four walls, I’m always going to choose the four walls. It’s four blank canvases — four walls to tell a story, communicate an idea, to inspire.”

The Huffman Park mural is once again commissioned by the Madison Heights Arts Board, which also commissioned two previous murals by Ramirez: “The Power of Imagination” (2019), on all four walls of the shelter building at Civic Center Park, and “Nature’s Repose” (2020), which spans the concession stand at Rosie’s Park. The board received proposals from eight artists for the mural at Huffman Park, which were redacted so members could review them impartially.

“We had a great conversation about what we thought would work best there for the community as a whole,” said Laurie Geralds, a member of the Arts Board, via email. “We felt ‘Mythical Creatures’ would appeal to all ages. We narrowed our options to three, and voted from there.”

Last year also saw an untitled mural by Amanda Trotto on the facade of the Madison Heights Public Library, following the theme “When Books Come to Life.” That mural was funded by a grant from Kaboom!, an organization that aims to create play spaces that improve quality of life. The three murals by Ramirez were funded purely by donations and money raised by the Arts Board. The board solicited project proposals for Huffman Park earlier this year, leaving the theme up to each artist.

There have been other types of murals, as well. For example, Eve Sandoval created an interactive sidewalk mural at Civic Center Park in 2020. Another ground mural, titled “Lifecycle of a Monarch Butterfly,” is located near the trail entrance to the woods at Rosie’s Park. A number of residents helped on that mural, which started last fall and continued this year. For the new mural at Huffman Park, Ramirez originally chose to depict a unicorn, a phoenix, a dragon and a chimera.

However, she was then reminded that the Madison Heights Wolverines practice football there. When a few parents and coaches raised concerns that the mural didn’t reflect this fact, Ramirez dropped the chimera and replaced it with a creature of her own invention, based on a wolverine. She said this was then approved by the Arts Board and satisfied the critics.

“I would much rather use my art to bring people together, rather than separate or create discontent,” Ramirez said.

She explained there are several steps to complete prior to actually painting a design.

“The walls need to be power-washed and primed. Once the walls are primed, I will take my sketch and project it up on the building using my computer hooked up to a projector, outline it and then begin painting,” Ramirez said.

She recalled the response to her murals at Civic Center Park and Rosie’s Park, which were mostly well-received, although “The Power of Imagination” at Civic Center Park baffled some viewers with its abstract concept and psychedelic colors. Ramirez said that by comparison, the response to “Mythical Creatures” has been universally positive so far.

“Almost everyone walking by has stopped to say how happy they are that the building is being painted, but also how excited they are about the subject matter, and to watch the progress. It’s been fun to meet the neighbors, and also their dogs, around the park, as well,” Ramirez said. “I’ve made a lot of new friends, and a lot of new dog buddies!”

Geralds said she loves the mural’s theme and stops by occasionally to see its progress.

“I know other residents do, too. Jennifer is always willing to engage with people while she works, and she is delightful,” Geralds said. “Jennifer’s willingness to alter one of the wall designs to honor the Madison Heights Wolverines football teams while keeping with her theme was a testament to her creativity and care for her community. We always welcome the opportunity to work with her and watch her works progress.”

While the Arts Board doesn’t currently have plans for more murals, Geralds said the city’s experiment with outdoor art has been a huge success.

“We have received feedback from residents, businesses and realtors alike that increasing visual art in the city helps make our community more appealing,” Geralds said. “And that just reinforces what we set out to do when the Arts Board was created in 2017.”