A small crowd gathered in Coachlight Square last week just behind the Brown County Visitors Center, to witness the reveal of a new public art installation that highlights Brown County life.

The work was created by local artist Mark Schmidt, who is also owner of Nashville Spice Co.

He described the mural as “a love letter to Nashville.”

It depicts two silhouettes of the state of Indiana, side by side, mirroring each other at a slight angle, appearing like wings.

The Indiana-shaped “wings” were painted to represent day and night, and all four seasons.

Schmidt’s artistic career began at the age of seven, when he entered into his first real art show. More than 50 years later, his work has been shown in major galleries all across the United States, including Los Angeles, Chicago, New York and Atlanta.

His work is also part of private collections at Valparaiso University and even outside of the country, including London, England and near Rome, Italy.

Schmidt moved to Brown County eight years ago to attend Indiana University, then later attended Herron School of Art and Design.

He described his artistic style as always being contemporary. He first focused on contemporary portraiture, but in the past decade he has done mainly contemporary wildlife work.

This style can be identified in his recent work at the Nashville, Tenn. and Cincinnati, Ohio zoos, where he has been commissioned to do wildlife pieces on a yearly basis.

Schmidt’s inspiration for the mural came from his love for the Brown County community, filling the wings with many objects and places that represent Brown County and Nashville.

The mural was also designed to be an interactive piece, in more ways than one. First, the wings are placed at an average person’s height, so viewers can stand in front of them and get their picture taken.

“I love the concept of it being a photo-op, an ‘Instagram-able’ moment with wings,” he said at the unveiling.

“So I just thought it would be a really cool idea to not do the standard black and white wings, but actually do them in a bunch of color and hide within the mural a bunch of items and places and objects that are synonymous with Brown County and Nashville.”

The many hidden items within the mural — like the Brown County Playhouse, ziplining and Abe Martin — create the second form of interaction with the piece, as a search-and-find activity for onlookers of all ages.

The Brown County Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) is designing a scavenger hunt handout that will challenge kids to find all the little things hidden in the wings.

“For kids, it’s something for them to go through, and actually be able to kind of interact with. I thought that was more fun,” Schmidt said.

The hunt will be a way for kids to not only have fun, but also to be able to identify many of the iconic things and places that make Nashville and Brown County special on their visit to the area.

‘A lot of opportunities’

The mural was paid for by the Public Art Activation Grant, awarded by the Indiana Destination Development Corporation (IDDC).

The grant seeks to create Indiana-specific public artwork throughout the state of Indiana.

Public artwork created in partnership with artists features the new IDDC tourism campaign, “IN Indiana.” It is a non-matching grant of up to $5,000 to fund public art projects. More than $200,000 in grant funding was awarded in May.

So far, more than 40 public arts projects have been completed by local organizations in 33 counties across the state, all funded by the IDDC.

The other completed mural in Nashville was also funded by the grant and was finished in August by local artist Kurt Eagleman. It is titled “Happiness in Color,” and can be found on the west wall of Mulberry Cottage on West Main Street.

Schmidt said he was approached by former executive director of the CVB Jane Ellis about the project earlier this spring because she knew of his past as a mural artist, before he opened the Nashville Spice Co.

Schmidt submitted a rough draft of the concept and design, and once the CVB and the IDDC approved it, he began working on the mural in his home garage the spring.

The creation of the mural took around seven months total, Schmidt said.

He finished the project in early October, and it was mounted onto a new fence at the visitors center on Nov. 28.

The original location for the mural was on the north side of the visitors center building, facing Washington Street. However, concerns arose about the potential hazard of taking photos and children studying the mural in the roadway.

At the same time as the mural was in production, an unrelated maintenance project was taking place behind the visitors center to remove trees and replace the old fencing.

The CVB decided to make a spot on the new fencing behind the building for the mural.

Greg Fox, CVB vice president who owns Nashville Spice Co. with Schmidt, said the CVB realized the fence and the wall was all rotted, and ready to fall down.

“We had to have all that redone and we thought, ‘let’s make a spot for the mural,’” Fox said last week.

The renovation of the area behind the building was approved by the CVB in October, with costs estimated around $25,000.

The pricing included the removal of the old fencing, wall and trees, and pouring concrete for a sidewalk that connects with Washington Street for visitors to comfortably stand and sit while admiring the mural.

“This was redesigned out of necessity, but then redesigned with the mural in mind,” Fox said.

Even though the fence is up and the mural is mounted and unveiled, the area surrounding the mural is not fully completed.

Plans are in place to mount a plaque next to the mural, to give an overview of what it is and how visitors can interact with it.

Come spring, the mural will also be lit from underneath, and the fence will be painted to match the color of the visitors center building behind it. Some landscaping will also be done to complete the area.

Nashville Spice Co. is also in Coachlight Square, with views of the mural from the storefront.

Schmidt said the mural’s proximity to his store was a “happy accident,” and he was thankful to the CVB for being open to reconstructing the wall to house the mural.

Schmidt said he hopes the murals will encourage the Town of Nashville itself to fund and support more public art, because public art not only brings color but also encourages interaction, he said.

“The way that art is now, with Instagram and social media, a lot of younger generations don’t go to galleries as much, they are more about being outdoors, so I would love to see it encourage more public art and more murals on some of these unused walls in Brown County,” he said.

“I would like to see the community that was founded as an arts community to have more public art. I think there’s a lot of spaces and opportunities to do big, colorful murals all over town.”