This rendering shows the full concept of the mural, which incorporates flowers with different meanings, a firefighter’s ladder and a “U” to represent Utica.

This rendering shows the full concept of the mural, which incorporates flowers with different meanings, a firefighter’s ladder and a “U” to represent Utica.

Photo provided by Gus Calandrino

Mural begins to take shape on Utica Fire Department

By: Kara Szymanski | Shelby - Utica News | Published September 3, 2021

 After several meetings and approval by City Council, work on the mural on the side of the Utica Fire Department began Aug.10.

After several meetings and approval by City Council, work on the mural on the side of the Utica Fire Department began Aug.10.

Photo provided by Gus Calandrino


UTICA — Another interesting work of art has made Utica its home this past month, adding more beauty to the town.

The new mural was approved Aug. 10 by the City Council to be put on the Utica Fire Department building wall. The mural has many details with meanings that are connected to the city.

A survey was completed to gather responses from members of the community to decide what the mural should represent. The top survey responses included the firefighters, the town’s history and Utica’s parks.

The design that Utica approved features many flowers around the letter “U” in the center of the mural.

In an artists’ statement, the artists, Gail Borowski and Stephanie Sucaet-Felczak, described the artwork as having an emphasis on the traditional symbolism of each flower. Each flower represents something about the people of Utica.

The flowers included in the mural are purple amaryllis, which represents pride; a red lily that represents courage; a pink carnation that means “I will never forget you”; a magenta magnolia that exemplifies a love of nature; an orange dahlia that symbolizes dignity; an orange and yellow iris that represents wisdom; a red tulip for love; a blue zinnia that means “never forget absent friends”; yellow chamomile that symbolizes “energy in adversity”; and blue-green rosemary to symbolize remembrance.

The “U” in the center will be in chrome and reflect the orange dahlia. In this way, the mural will incorporate the orange, black and white that are the colors of Utica High School. The high school was another suggestion from the survey as something to include in the mural.

Running the length of the mural is a firefighter’s ladder. The artists said in their statement that they would add more details to the ladder’s design once they could see an actual ladder from the Fire Department.

Borowski and Sucaet-Felczak have collaborated with some guest artists to make the artwork come to life. Borowski said later in August that the project was moving along smoothly.

“Despite this wicked heat, we are really moving along! We are on our 9th work day. I would estimate we are 75% finished,” she said in an email interview.

She said she was flattered and motivated when the Detroit Institute of Arts Partners in Public Art program approached her to be one of its muralists back in February 2020.

“Of course, it all got pushed back, like so much in this world, a month later. That gave me more time to sketch, work on themes, get the community survey results and design three options,” she said.

She said she drew the designs to scale with the wall. The wall of the Utica Fire Department is 17 by 80 feet.

She said much of her own studio art involves images of flowers and animals in settings that could not be reality — examples include a fish above water or a bird with a lasso around the moon, and flowers that have parts of other plants.

“I had three different themes for this mural project. The mayor of Utica chose my flower design, and I could not be happier. The flowers all represent characteristics specified in the community survey implemented by the DIA. However they alternate right side up then upside down. This makes the lower part of the wall as interesting as the higher part. There’s an element of surprise with this, too,” she said.

Once they started painting, she and Sucaet-Felczak thought the community might want to get involved in the actual painting.

“We have Utica High School art students, Utica Community Schools teachers with their own children and neighbors in the area coming by to make their mark,” she said.

She feels this experience offers the guest artists two things — a greater awareness of the mural due to seeing all the stages and effort that goes into a project of this scale, and a feeling of ownership of the project after seeing their brushstrokes put in a permanent display.

“Mayor (Gus) Calandrino and two firefighters worked on the painting, too. How often can you say that about any mural? I love that people are coming together in the name of creativity. Art can do that. It can make the world a nicer place, a kinder place. And it is turning out to be a more beautiful place, too,” said Borowski.

Calandrino explained the partnership with the Detroit Institute of Arts. The Partners in Public Art program is a way that the DIA gives back for the tri-county millage that funds it.

“The Detroit Institute of Arts generously offered to create a mural in downtown Utica about two years ago at no cost to the Utica taxpayers. Unfortunately, all plans were put on hold due to the COVID pandemic. Once things began to return to normalcy, the DIA expressed their wishes to restart our plans to install a mural on the Utica Fire Station,” he said in an email.

After several meetings and approval by City Council, the work on the mural began on Aug. 10. On the evening of the City Council meeting where final approval was being voted on, the artists were waiting with brushes in hand to begin painting.

There has been a lot of interest, and many people have stopped to talk to the artists.

“Public art is an important feature in our downtown. Art adds points of interest and gives visitors more reasons to stop in our beautiful city. Public art also adds to the quality of life for all our residents. Thanks to the Detroit Institute of Arts for sponsoring the mural,” said Calandrino.