Mural opening at UNF Hall in Windsor

Mural by artist Stephen Romanow

Stephen Romanow for New Pathway – Ukrainian News.

Sunday, September 20, 2020 was the official unveiling of a new exterior hand-painted mural by artist Stephen Romanow on the Ukrainian National Federation hall in Windsor. It’s an imposing image in the alley on the east side of the building at 1033 Ottawa St.

The event was attended by Cathy Masterson, Head of Cultural Affairs for the City of Windsor. She graciously spoke on behalf of the City and assisted the artist in cutting down the parachute that had been draped over the mural. UNF Windsor was represented by Carol Guimond (President) and Leisha Nazarewich (Vice President). Also in attendance were Jurij Klufas and Uliana Hlynchak, from Toronto-based Kontakt TV. They video-taped the unveiling and streamed the event live. A 12-minute segment on Kontakt’s Facebook had already received well over 500 views within one day. Broadcast date TBA.

How did the mural come to be?

The incentive to produce the mural started with the efforts of David Burman. David is the owner of the building across from the alley of the UNF Hall, and is a progressive businessman who transformed an old bowling alley into a trendy interior design store. He initially approached the UNF to have our alley wall painted. At first we thought this was just a coat of new paint on the wall. But David had the side and back of his building painted by a mural artist. This prompted Stephen to seek funding to be able to paint a mural on the side of the UNF building.

In fall 2019, Stephen applied to the City of Windsor’s “Arts, Culture & Heritage Fund” and received a grant to paint the mural. He was the only artist to receive the maximum grant allowance. However, at that time it was already late in the fall with winter on its way. Work on the mural was deferred and commenced on May 20, 2020.

The Ukrainian National Federation hall in Windsor

The entire depth of the building is 86 feet, with the mural being painted on the vertical section immediately on Ottawa Street. The mural section is 24 feet high and 17 feet wide, and extending an additional 8 feet into the alley. It is readily seen from passersby on the busy street (over 6,000 vehicles daily) and can be seen from the park across the street. Ottawa Street is a growing community, with many businesses, shops, cafés and restaurants.

The mural is divided into two sections. The lower half consists of intertwining ribbons of red, yellow, blue and green, the four basic colours usually found in a vinok. The upper half features two Ukrainian dancers, inspired by an image of two Edmonton-based Shumka dancers. Stephen had danced with Shumka on and off for 22 years. The upper half also includes red draped curtains, the Ukrainian Trident emblem, and the artist’s self-portrait.

Before the mural could be painted, the wall needed to be cleaned with a power sprayer. It was then primed with an industrial black primer. The mural was then painted over the course of the summer, ending with two different final protective coatings (protection from weather and vandalism).

Painting the mural during a record heat-wave in Windsor was a daunting task – most days the temperature was over 30 degrees Celsius (86 Fahrenheit). Stephen didn’t start working on the mural until 3 p.m. when he could work in the shade; it was better for him and for the paint application. The heat also limited his work to two-three hours a day. The weather needed to be constantly monitored and work planned on suitable days.

Stephen had an initial design and reference images, but was constantly making changes and adjustments as he hand painted the mural. For example, he painted the girl’s face nine times, adjusting for proportion, angle, expression, look and treatment. He would also abandon the reference images as he got into the painting zone. The mural also looks different when one is up high and close to the wall than it does from the ground and at a distance. The mural’s progress was photographed and scrutinized daily, with Stephen making mental notes for the next day’s alterations and progress.

At one point, after having painted the lower body of the female dancer, Stephen needed to lower the entire image down over a foot in order for the male dancer to fit properly on the wall.

Stephen Romanow’s self portrait at the mural

Stephen also changed his design, switching out his original geometric designs for red draped curtains. He also decided to add a self-portrait along with his name as the mural artist. For fun, he has himself peering out through a hole in the wall.

Stephen Romanow

Reaching the upper parts of the mural required a ladder with a standing platform at the top and two sets of scaffolding. Setting up and taking down the scaffolding set each day to store everything inside the hall for safe-keeping was a tedious task.

There were obstacles to overcome – the heat, the height, draped flagging, stringed lights, obtaining materials during the COVID shut-down, and, over the last couple of weeks – wasps. But Stephen managed to get through it all, and after five months of work was able to celebrate the mural’s unveiling.

The unveiling event was limited in attendance, with the recent lowering of allowable persons to gather publicly, but was a comfortable number in the narrow alley. Everyone wore masks, and refreshments and snacks were COVID-friendly. Overall, it was a well-attended event, the weather was perfect, and it was a pleasant affair for all.

The attendees could observe a collection of other artworks by the artist inside the hall. This was Stephen’s first exterior mural, but he is not a stranger to painting large. Three of Stephen’s large paintings (4’x8’) were hung inside.

In the end, the UNF hall in Windsor has a beautiful mural on its exterior wall, which not only improves the appearance of the hall, but it also enhances the appearance of the street. It increases the presence of the UNF hall on Ottawa Street, and draws attention to the Ukrainian community in Windsor.