400 years of Niles’ history preserved

Published 10:30 am Wednesday, December 15, 2004

By By SPIROS GALLOS / Niles Daily Star
NILES - A mural displaying the 400 year history of the area of the City of Four Flags encompasses walkers and runners as they make their way around the track at the Niles-Buchanan YMCA.
Thanks to the efforts of the YMCA Board of Directors and Vintage Archonics, Inc., an architectural firm based in Fort Wayne, Ind., the mural will continue to tell the history of Niles when the YMCA builds its new facility at Front and Pokagon streets.
At a luncheon with the mural artist, Janet Seaman, about a week ago, YMCA Executive Director Bret Hendrie gladly told Seaman that her work would be preserved and transported to the new facility.
The mural, which measures about one-fourteenth of a mile, or approximately 300 feet, around, will be taken down from its current location and relocated to the upper level of the new building's lobby.
The mural will be framed in and illuminated by soft lighting, Hendrie said, making the mural look like the piece of art that it is.
Vintage Archonics, Inc., the architectural firm in charge of the new building project, was one of two firms, out of the six total that were interviewed, which expressed an interest in saving the mural when going through the interview process.
Tim Bailey, principle architect for Vintage Archonics, brought the plans to save the mural to Hendrie along with several elevations detailing how the mural will be incorporated into the new buildings architecture.
The 76-year-old Seaman began working on the mural, which is titled "Indian Trails to Silver Rails," in 1993, after former YMCA executive director Nick Zimmer approached her with the idea of doing something to make the walls of the running track more appealing.
Seaman, who was in her last year of teaching first grade at Eastside Elementary, was a well-known artist in town, having designed calendars for local groups and decorated floats for the Apple Festival parades.
In addition to teaching at Eastside, Seaman also taught art classes after school, as their was no dedicated art program within the schools at the time, and taught an art program at the YMCA as well.
When Seaman saw the wall around the track that would become the home of her mural, she knew what she would do to liven up the running track.
After the school year ended and Seaman was officially retired, she flew to Phoenix, to see a mural which was painted on the side of the Phoenix Sun's arena.
Seaman said she was impressed with the condition the mural was in, despite the 113 degree temperature on the day she visited the mural.
When she returned from her trip to Phoenix, Seaman purchased the same type of acrylic paint which was used on the Phoenix mural, and began preparing to start work on the mural.
The first step in the creation, Seaman drew what she wanted the mural to look like on eight and one-half by 11 inch piece of paper.
She then had the drawings made into sheets of clear mylar and projected them onto the walls at the YMCA. Seaman then outlined the projections using acrylic paint.
Knowing one 65-year-old woman couldn't paint the entire mural herself, Seaman recruited the talent of more than 40 volunteers, ranging in age from kindergarten students to adults, over five years to help her complete the mural.
Seaman completed the first panel of the mural, which displays pre-European life in the area in 1600, by herself as a guide for the volunteers to see how the mural would be painted.
The mural continues through many significant times in the history of Niles, including the arrival of French missionaries, the founding of Fort St. Joseph, the arrival of the railroad, and other highlights of Niles' rich history.
The last panel of the mural features the Amtrak Train Depot at 11:59 p.m. on New Year's Eve, 1999, with a train departing for Chicago as the depot is lit with holiday lights.
Anyone wishing to make a contribution to the YMCA Fund Raising Campaign, should contact YMCA Executive Director Bret Hendrie at (269) 683-1552.