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Iowa artist Ryan Bentzinger paints “Jewel of the Prairie” mural downtown

Ryan Bentzinger’s “Jewel of the Prairie” mural is visible on the building downtown previously occupied by China Sea. Photo by Alexandra Fontana.
Ryan Bentzinger’s “Jewel of the Prairie” mural is visible on the building downtown previously occupied by China Sea. Photo by Alexandra Fontana.

Ryan Bentzinger, a University of Iowa graduate and artist, is currently painting a mural in downtown Grinnell on the side of the building previously occupied by China Sea restaurant.

Bentzinger plans to title the mural “Jewel of the Prairie” and hopes to be done by sometime next week.

“I try to be here Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, but with Iowa weather, I got rained out quite a bit, I think [I will be done] the following week. Once I did the high stuff, that’s time consuming [work], now it’s just details and shadows,” said Bentzinger.

He was asked to do this piece after one of the new owners of the building saw his work in Pella, where Bentzinger painted his first large mural. He had artistic license over the entire mural aside from being instructed to make the mural picturesque and include the words “Grinnell” and “Jewel of the Prairie.”

Bentzinger works in a Pre-K through sixth grade private school, and says he is, “kind of the artist of the school.” He was inspired by the animals he drew at the school and chose to paint a prairie scene.

“We name our classes after prairie animals, so I actually have been practiced up … I’m putting all our class animals in it,” said Bentzinger.

“I’ve only done two [murals] publicly, but my favorite thing is at first people … you know you hear the murmurings and the graffiti talk and the eye rolls because you have to sketch it out,” said Bentzinger. Once the painting is done “those same people, usually are like, oh wow, this is wonderful.”

Bentzinger received some inquiries and suggestions that it is not legal to spray-paint buildings, but he explained that he has tons of equipment and works in broad daylight, so it should be evident that he is working on a licensed piece.He hopes to bring more attention to street art and the experiences of Iowa artists.

“I just want to break the stigma [of street art] and also it’s just nice [because] art adds energy to anything. You have a blank room and then you put art in a room and then there’s this psychological thing that happens,” said Bentzinger.

He is including a detail in the work, he calls “queen fox.”

“I have a character in my drawings and paintings that’s emerged in the last couple of years, I call her ‘queen fox.’ You can see the light silhouette and the hair on her and it is a shadow to my more imaginative side. The actual character is more imaginative, but I like that silhouette,” said Bentzinger.

“I’m hoping to catch people’s moods or eyes as they drive by but also [that] people who want to spend time with it [can] find little hidden thing—I like to put little Easter-eggs. It all depends on how tired I am in the end, usually there’s a little boost of energy.” Bentzinger said.


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