Swather artist ties urban style with rural roots

By Jackie Nelson

HESSTON – Senior Maddy Dages has made her mark on Hesston High, designing and painting an over 30-foot mural on the brick wall just outside the art room.

Shelly Hageman, art instructor at Hesston High, said Dages took the lead on the project, despite early challenges. Four students were initially assigned to the project and only Dages saw it through to completion.

“She said, ‘I’m going to get this done,’ and she did. I was very proud of her,” said Hageman.

Dages said she was fully in control of the design work and wanted the mural to tell a cohesive story – one of identity and self-discovery. In both style and medium choice, Dages said the piece is also a head nod to urban graffiti.

“I really wanted something more urban on half – some inner-city murals are really inspiring and I thought that would be cool to tie in. We aren’t that urban, but we have our own roots. This is about where we might go, where we might end up and what our dreams may be and the path throughout,” she said.

Hageman added Dages was thoughtful in not just design, but the message – from roots planted in one’s hometown, to wandering through young adulthood and finding an identity even through end-of-life, reaching one’s dreams or seeing those dreams change. 

“They had this whole canvas and narrowing down what should go on it, that’s difficult for anyone, particularly a high school student,” said Hageman.

With design work completed, colors selected and the wall in the midst of being primed, COVID-19 shut down Hesston High.

After weeks of shutdown with students not allowed in the building, Hageman petitioned Hesston High Principal Ty Rhodes for permission for Dages and other Art Club students to work outdoors on the mural. Hageman said when she contacted students, there was a mixed response, with some students arriving to work on the mural, while others believed it was safer to remain distant.

Dages said the initial shots of paint were intimidating, after having primed the wall.

“[Hageman] handed me spray paint and said, ‘Go for it!’ And I was like, ‘What? OK!’ And it actually went really well for just spraying,” she said.

When Dages began work on the mural, she had not used spray paint as a medium.

“Maddy didn’t know anything about spray paint, but her and Elizabeth [Friesen] went in and made it happen. They only painted over a few things,” said Hageman.

The mural was painted freehand, with stencils used only for one area on one panel.

“It was challenging. I’m a detail person when it comes to painting. You can’t get the detail you want,” said Dages.

With each panel designed, Dages and Art Club students got to work, laying the foundations of each panel before Dages assigned club members to specific tasks. After weeks of work, the mural began to take shape.

“It was nice seeing each panel as it was done. Every time when we added more detail into spots, it was exciting to see. It was exciting to see it finally finished and see the whole thing done,” said Dages.

Hageman added Dages, Friesen and other Art Club members had to be especially committed to the mural, working through COVID-19 and blistering heat.

“You have to love what you’re doing when you’re working. We would be dripping with sweat. There’s no air movement,” said Hageman.

Battling overspray and just the nature of the medium, “You leave covered in spray paint,” said Dages.

Hageman said the mural, which is visible from the art classroom, has brought her joy.

“I particularly love this one because I get to look at it every day. It was very ugly before – I didn’t open my blinds. But now I have my blinds completely open every day,” she said.

Dages added the mural is a personal accomplishment.

“I wanted to see what I could do. I love graffiti murals and thought it would be cool seeing what I could do with spray paint for the first time,” she said. “I wanted to do something meaningful and that would last.”

Art Club Students Involved
Trevor Baldauf; Tyler Baldauf; Liz Ecker; Elisabeth Friesen; Beckham Jantzi; Payton Jayhay; Jamie Krehbiel; Rose Roets; Grace Shirley; Josh Shirley; Megan Slicker; Amber Thrasher; Emerson Welsh; Jimmy Yang.

Elisabeth Friesen (right) was a key artist in completing a mural designed by Maddy Dages (left).