By Cassie Gasvoda
Many artists create on commission, where a customer requests a specific work be made of a particular person, place, or subject. These pieces usually end up in the commissioner’s private collection where they are cherished but rarely viewed by the public. So when art is commissioned on a larger scale in a more visible place, like for instance, a garage door, people take notice. That’s exactly what happened when Jim DeStaffany and Andrew Fowler teamed up to paint the visage of Johnny Cash on DeStaffany’s shed.
DeStaffany and Fowler, both from Conrad, were friends on the volunteer fire department before teaming up as artists. It began with DeStaffany painting on Fowler’s metal art pieces. When DeStaffany wanted to expand his work onto different canvases, he decided to use the side of his shed. People noticed, and began requesting murals of iconic celebrities on their sheds and garages. In the fall of 2015, Ed’s Tavern, a local bar, contacted the pair about doing a larger than life mural on the side of their building.
“They wanted something beer related, but also with a Western theme,” says DeStaffany.
They created a grayscale image of Clydesdale horses pulling a delivery cart, with the horses angled so they seem to be coming out of the wall onto the streets of Conrad. That’s when the Great Falls Tribune did an article, and things really got big for the two artists. Literally.
“Someone from the [C.M. Russell] museum got a hold of me, and we worked with the city,” recalls DeStaffany.
He and Fowler were hired to paint the gigantic mural of the legendary Western artist on the stairwell tower of the north parking garage in downtown Great Falls.
From there other companies contracted them for large-scale murals, of which there are now three. The Paris Gibson on the Baum-Trinastich Building and Alma Jacobs on the southside of the Great Falls Public Library were also created by the duo.
“The community feedback has been super positive,” says Fowler. “People are always asking if we have something new lined up. There’s a couple projects we need to get done. Hopefully this summer we can get rolling again.”