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Skyview High School teacher artist of two new murals in Smithfield

Article from Herald Journal News - July 13, 2023

Those who have driven on Main Street in Smithfield recently may have noticed a new, patriotic mural painted on the wall of Preston Watts Collision and Glass.

The mural — painted by Skyview High School’s art teacher Lester Lee — is the second one to be painted on Preston Watt’s building. Another mural, also painted by Lee, was finished on the north side of the building in July 2022.

These are the first murals Lee has painted in his more than 30-year career as an artist — and they won’t be his last. The business has already asked him to paint another one next summer.

“For the longest time I wasn’t a fan of murals, because if they’re not done right, they can look tacky,” Lee said. “But this has been a new experience for me, and I feel like I’ve crossed the line into liking them now.”

The first mural painted by Lee features a giant sunflower and an old tow truck that the business owned when it first opened more than 50 years ago.

The second mural, finished just recently, boasts the “largest flag in Cache Valley,” with its stripes measuring 15 inches tall, according to Lee. The mural, which sits behind a historic gun used by the Navy, also has an eagle and includes the quote, “land of the free because of the brave.”

Lee estimates he dedicated approximately 30 hours to the sunflower mural and around 60 hours to the flag mural. Some of his students also lent a helping hand.

“I like the sheer size,” Lee said. “It’s more than impressive to see something on a grandiose scale. And especially the flag. It’s not just flat. It’s got waves in it, so the wall actually looks bent.”

Mindy Ohlwiler, an employee of Preston Watts’ who is very connected to the business, said the first mural’s design not only holds great meaning for the business, but it also carries a personal connection for herself.

Ohlwiler’s late mother, who passed away after a biking accident, inspired the inclusion of a ladybug on the sunflower’s stem. The spots on the ladybug include the letters to her mother’s name — Judy.

“That was the very last thing that he did, and then he signed it and then he was done,” Ohlwiler said. “I think I just stood there with my mouth open.”

Ohlwiler said the business chose to do a patriotic theme for their second mural as many of its customers and employees are veterans themselves. There are various pictures honoring Smithfield’s history and veterans from the area hanging inside the shop, she said.

“We’re just super proud and grateful for that freedom that we hopefully don’t take for granted,” Ohlwiler said.

The new murals have already garnered attention from locals and those passing by. Lee and those at Preston Watts will work on a new project next year, painting an even larger wall near the shop’s parking structure.

“We love to create something that’s fun,” Ohlwiler said. “Instead of having a boring, cinderblock building, why not paint something cool on there? We hope that the community, and people that drive by, notice it and stop to take a picture. It’s for everybody.”


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