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 A sketch that was presented to the Utica Downtown Development Authority  during its March 12 meeting shows the mural’s design.

A sketch that was presented to the Utica Downtown Development Authority during its March 12 meeting shows the mural’s design.

Photo provided by Gus Calandrino

Mural to transform WeatherTech building in downtown Utica

By: Kara Szymanski | Shelby - Utica News | Published July 8, 2019

 Wendy Popko, an artist from Sterling Heights, paints the mural in the sun.

Wendy Popko, an artist from Sterling Heights, paints the mural in the sun.

Photo provided by Wendy Popko


UTICA — Downtown Utica is brushing up on its artistry and culture with a new project along Auburn Road.

Wendy Popko, an artist from Sterling Heights, is painting a mural on the side of the WeatherTech building, located at 7747 Auburn Road.

With the permission of the property owner and under a contract with the Downtown Development Authority, the city previously approved the artist to paint a mural on the building.

The plan is for the mural to be done in about six weeks.

The mural contains symbolism related to Utica. The pig in the mural stands for the old packing plant. The trails represent the biking trails in the city. The weathervane stands for the WeatherTech building, and the arrow points in the direction of the artist’s house. The mural will cover the whole side of the building.

“Every mural is different — the environment, the surface, everything. So each mural project is a new adventure. I always get super nervous that first day, when my brush hits the wall (or stair). It feels like I’m getting ready to leap off a cliff. Then I do. And then I let my paintbrush fly!” Popko said via email.

The mural required one coat of SuperPaint on the building’s wall from Pluto Painting for $1,750. It will cost $8,500 to install the mural.

The WeatherTech building is located between Brownell Street and Cass Avenue in downtown Utica.

Popko said that the experience painting the mural has already been a great one, and the local support has been amazing. She thanked USA Tire for donating the scissor lift that she is using to paint the building, and she thanked WeatherTech for allowing her to store her paint and supplies in the building. Shamrock Pub has been providing encouragement and ice water, she said, and State Farm agent Nick Morang offered a refrigerator and space to make adjustments to the mural plan.

Popko said that the city has been there for all her needs and even came to save her one time.

“Over the weekend, Mayor (Thom) Dionne and Councilman (Gus) Calandrino came to my rescue to give me a push (I drove the scissor lift into a divet and the wheels kept spinning). I love the support,” she said.

She also said she has enjoyed the new tools she gets to use and the new experience of creating art for the local community.

“Have I mentioned how much I love using that scissor lift? I LOVE it!! I was so scared to use it. I’m used to scaffolding, but this building is 10 feet taller than my highest mural. I feel like I’ve learned a new skill #GIRLPOWER #GoBigOrGoHome lol!! Everyone wanted to make sure that I felt safe before using it. My safety was their top concern. Obviously, I did not tell them how scared I really was (haha). But I know as an artist, you cannot grow without taking risks and pushing yourself outside your comfort zone,” she said.

Popko said she picked the design of the mural because it represented Utica and its unique history.

“I am really thrilled to be a part of the new public art program coming to Utica! Utica is this cool little downtown. There are several older buildings with beautiful architectural detail, bringing a sense of history to the area. That’s why I wanted to design something that had meaning to the community of Utica, but with a modern twist. I’m naming this mural ‘Homeward Bound,’” said Popko.

Calandrino said he is thankful that the city was able to partner with Popko for the mural project.

“Wendy Popko is an immensely talented artist, and the city of Utica is fortunate to have her share her artistic vision with us,” he said in an email.

“The new mural will add vitality and interest to our downtown district. The Downtown Development Authority provided all the funding for the new mural. The DDA is committed to making improvements to our city that are significant and lasting,” he said.

Calandrino said the mural will add to the city’s landscape and make Utica more of a destination spot.

“As proven in other cities, investing in art helps to make a city a destination. I’m so pleased that Wendy’s new mural will soon become a part of downtown Utica’s landscape.”

Dionne said the city has plans to install murals throughout the downtown area in the future.

“We are going to be doing several other murals in the downtown district. This is just the first of many. We’ve spoken with all of the business owners in the downtown district that would have the potential interest in this project, and their response has been very positive. The goal was to bring more foot traffic into the city, and one of the means of doing so was to create some culture. We are going to continue to add more features as creative ideas present themselves,” Dionne said via email.

The city is looking to have a ribbon cutting after the project is complete.

For more information on the mural, call the city of Utica at (586) 739-1600.