Roving artist Roger Peet of Portland, Ore., is spending a week in Uptown Butte painting two Arctic graylings on a brick wall.
The eventual multi-colored mural is one of several that Peet, 40, is creating across the country as part of the Endangered Species Mural Project commissioned by the Center for Biological Diversity in Portland.
Although controversial, CBD considers the grayling endangered.
Last August, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced it would not move the fish to the endangered species list, thanks to years of conservation work federal and state wildlife agencies and ranchers performed along the Big Hole River.
But the Center for Biological Diversity, Western Watershed Projects and two individuals -- one of whom is Montana Tech professor Pat Munday -- disagreed with that decision and filed a lawsuit earlier this year. They say the Arctic grayling still needs protection.
Montana fishermen and fisherwomen familiar with the fluvial – river-dwelling – Arctic grayling know the last remnants of this native fish are found in the Upper Big Hole River, a world-class, blue-ribbon fishing stream.
“People in Butte are pretty much aware of grayling in the nearby river,” said Peet. “But the goal is to make these symbols a part of daily life.”
The grayling exists in no other place in the lower 48 states, said Munday, a Tech communications/history professor and former board member of the Big Hole River Foundation and Trout Unlimited.
The species was once common in the Upper Missouri watershed.
“The Big Hole is the last toehold,” Munday said. “It’s kind of sad. I’ve talked with ranchers who are now old who talked about how common graylings were when they were kids. They were common and easy to catch.”
The Uptown mural stretches vertically between the first and second floors of the Butte Miner Floral building.
The west-facing mural, easily visible as one drives east on West Broadway Street, will unfold into multiple colors as Peet applies layers.
He applied the outline on Sunday, then took Monday off due to the pouring rain, then blocked in the underneath black base on Monday.
“It will be bright with a lot of color,” he said. “The lighter colors go on top.”
A printmaker by trade, he travels the country, creating eye-popping murals of various endangered species in order to “feature wildlife species that are unique to their regions, promoting an affinity for the natural world and the diverse species that help define it,” according to CBD website (see link).
The pilot project will take Peet to seven cities to paint the following:
The watercress darter, a colorful fish in Birmingham, Ala.; the Ozark hellbender, an aquatic amphibian in St. Louis, Missouri; the Colorado River fish on the Navajo reservation in Arizona; the bull trout in Oakridge, Ore.; and the monarch butterfly in Minneapolis, Minn.
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The mural project is not a political project, Munday said.
Rather, it’s “a way to raise consciousness and awareness of these species we’re sharing the world with. Just bringing these iconic species, these beautiful animals into our world is really nice.”
Peet has already painted a bluish caribou on a downtown Sandpoint, Idaho, outer wall at street level. The last remaining woodland caribou in the contiguous United States are found in Northern Idaho.
“We try to make a big visual depiction of them in communities (near) where they live,” said Peet.
On Tuesday, as the sun returned and temperatures warmed back to seasonal norms, Peet’s parents dropped in from Tucson, Ariz., to observe his work.
“This (project) just happens to overlap with my class reunion, so we stopped here in Butte,” said Mark Gettings, Peet’s father.
He and Joan Milner, Peet’s mother, head to Ronan for his 50th class reunion after seeing the sights in Butte. Their pose-worthy shepherd mix, Keely, came along for the ride and took in Peet’s mural, too.
Painting the mural on an Uptown building is permissible under historical preservation regulations, said Mary McCormick, recently hired Historic Preservation Officer for Butte-Silver Bow County.
“It’s not a sign, it’s not an advertisement and there’s no public funds being used, so there’s no permitting requirement,” said McCormick. “That’s when the historic preservation ordinance would only apply.”
Part of the National Historic Landmark District, the Butte Miner Floral building owners are not required to go before the Historic Preservation Commission for design review because it’s a private property and not listed on the local register, she added.
So the mural unveiling planned for July 31 has the county’s blessing to go off as planned. See info box.
Rick Chappel, owner of the Beautiful Things on Broadway antique store, located in the building, welcomes Peet and his paints with open arms.
“I’m really excited for the building to have some more attention,” said Chappel.
The mural is a way to beautify Uptown.
“We have all these empty walls where buildings are being torn down, but this mural is a beautiful canvas on a brick wall,” added Munday.
Munday helped CBD director Noah Greenwald scout local buildings as potential mural locations. Greenwald will attend the unveiling.
“I’m just really happy this mural is coming to Butte,” Munday added. “It’s a chance for all these people who care about nature and this special species to get together.”