This project stood out to muralist Will Schlough.
He’s used to the occasional comments from pedestrians passing him; they ask what he’s working on as he ascends on a scissor lift, with his cardboard stencils and buckets of paint.
But this time in Renton, the number of people who approached him was incredible. Schlough just finished a new mural of boxer Daniel Victor “Boone” Kirkman, or “Boom Boom” in the ring, which will celebrate completion with an event Nov. 21 from 5 to 7 p.m. along the wall of La Hacienda Santa Fe on South 3rd Street.
He heard tales from Rentonites of watching Kirkman box as a kid, he heard of tales of him owning the Melrose, of classmates and friendships. Schlough said he realized this mural was bringing much joy to Renton.
“When you make public art, you want to make something the community will care about and take pride in, and I realized (with this project) a good way to do that is to make a mural about a person people really care about,” Schlough said.
The former heavyweight boxer fought in, what the city of Renton called in it’s request for artists for this project, one of the greatest heavyweight eras of all time, amongst the likes of Muhammad Ali and George Foreman.
Fay Moss is the passionate advocate behind the new mural.
“In the days of his career, this town was just crazy about him, not just the town but the Northwest,” Moss said. “Everyone was so excited about Boone and he put Renton on the map in those years, and it always seemed very interesting to me that he was such a hometown hero and there has never been anything done to remember him.”
Moss spent years sharing the idea of honoring Kirkman to whomever she could, and it finally struck with former city of Renton employee John Collum at a Downtown Renton Partnership retreat.
Collum asked Moss what she thought of a mural, which was bigger than the gold star she imagined in a sidewalk somewhere. From there, the arts commission, chamber of commerce and city got involved.
“It was their brainchild. She was the visionary and he was the one who gave it legs,” said Jessie Kotarski, economic development specialist for Renton, who took over the project when Collum left.
The call for artist went out in July, with plans to complete near end of October and a $5,000 budget from the Renton Municipal Arts Commission and Port of Seattle. The artist needed to understand the vision of Kirkman’s mural.
Some of the delay before July came in finding a building owner who would also understand that vision. Kotarski said the city sat down with a few downtown building owners who wanted different murals, until owners of La Hacienda on the corner of 3rd Avenue and Wells Street agreed to the vision for the mural and offered their wall.
Then choosing the artist, Kotarski said eight applied for the project, and ultimately the deciding panel met Will Schlough and fell in love with his persona and willingness to work in the guidelines of honoring Kirkman.
Even the bottom of the mural reflects discussions with Kirkman and the other aspects of his life: fly fishing, climbing mountains, formerly owning the Melrose and driving a truck for Boeing after his kickboxing career. Kirkman’s likeness on the side of the wall stands up, towering over the different symbols of these other parts of his life.
Schlough said he wanted to incorporate the other parts of his life in a way that would not only show Kirkman as a whole person, but in the context of the boxing aesthetics. Keeping the image a black and white photo while including some color items without overpowering it was a challenge.
Schlough was attracted to the building and the photo that would inspire the mural, and the idea of creating a nostalgic boxing poster.
Schough also received his masters degree in social work at University of Washington. He said the degree has somewhat changed his approach to public art, and said talking to community strengthens the success of a piece.
Kirkman still lives in Renton and was humble but honored about this mural, Kotarski said. Schlough, Kotarski and Moss all said he was kind, sweet and a gentle soul, who had an amazingly detailed memory of his life, down to wrestling matches he’s had.
“I have a terrible memory, and I was astounded by every little detail he remembered,” Schlough said. “Also something you’ll hear from anyone is how nice of a guy he is. For me, that was something I wanted to get in the mural as well. He’s been that kind of guy but also happened to be a boxer.”
Schlough said Kirkman’s brother would walk by most days to check on the mural’s progress.
The project ended up bumping it’s budget to $6,000, Kotarski said, to cover some additional paint. Schlough said the porous walls did require some extra coating.
“That’s what amazed us more as the committee than anything, just how many people recognized him. I don’t know if (Moss) realized how deeply rooted in the community he was,” Kotarski said.
Moss said she had friends as far as Mason County that know Kirkman and remember seeing him in the ring.
The project has really identified the benefits of a mural, including the public’s response, Kotarski said. The Renton Historical Society told her a Facebook post about this mural was the highest rate of response they’ve ever seen from a post. Everybody knows it’s him and it’s an easy way to get communities excited about the arts, Kotarski said, adding that future mural projects are also in the works for Renton.
“Public art is a big piece of why the arts commission budget is so important — supporting local artists but also honoring the character of the community, and there’s no better way to do that then put it on a public building for all to see. That’s the direction we want to see arts going in for Renton, is creating this sense of place and really inspiring a sense of community, getting people involved, to stop and notice, and to realize progress is made with collaboration,” Kotarski said.
Meanwhile, Moss is more excited than she can even say to finally see her brainchild materialized.
“It was just my thought that everyone picked up and ran with. It was just wonderful,” Moss said.