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Muralist brightens blank space at Black Hawk
Beau Thomas of Green Bay paints a mural in the entrance of Black Hawk school on Friday. An anonymous person donated the funds for the mural. (Times photo: Marissa Weiher)
SOUTH WAYNE - The Black Hawk school district has found a way to turn subjects like security doors and extra walls into positive, art-filled experiences for their students with the help of an anonymous donor.

Beau Thomas, 25, is an established muralist in his hometown of Green Bay. The efforts of a generous person and K-12 art teacher Jessica Axon brought in Thomas to create a mural full of education-themed graphics, such as the first three words of the Constitution and the first few digits of pi.

The addition of a white wall spanning roughly 15 feet just inside the entrance of the school was part of security additions and cried out for beautification. The doors entering the school are now equipped with a communication and camera system. Axon said the empty, white-washed space needed a new look.

"We thought a mural would be good for it," she said.

The timing coincides with Youth Art Month. Each March, art is celebrated in schools in the United States. On Friday, Thomas stopped by the Black Hawk art room before working on his mural for the third and final day. Thomas explained to the group of fifth-graders, 27 in all, the importance of fundamentals.

"I love to doodle," Thomas said. "I try to draw every day. I try to bring a sketchbook with me and draw anything and everything. It helps to have drawing skills as a foundation."

He added that the school mural was the first time he had created a number of the images, but, because he practices each day, it did not take long to turn his ideas into reality.

Thomas also told the story about how he came to own his own mural company called Trackside Design. At 15, Thomas was caught spray painting Green Bay business buildings. At 21, he said he was in court for tagging train cars with paint again. After receiving a fine of $4,000, which he said was a lucky break in comparison to jail time, Thomas stopped painting public property. In December of 2015, he graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay with degrees in fine art and graphic design.

Working in a field he loves, Thomas founded his design company as a class project while still attending college. He decided to continue it after graduation, and eventually his venture became a full business. Working only part-time while attending classes, Thomas built Trackside Designs into a full-time company, discerning how much he would need to pay his bill and working varied jobs as requests came in. His projects have included home wall paintings, an outdoor arts district mural for the city of Green Bay and logo designs for businesses. He estimated his work can total up to 50 projects annually.

"I think my job is a dream come true," Thomas said.

Though spray paint will always be "kind of the top choice," for Thomas, he has worked with other media. His goal has been to have versatile talent and enjoy art in a variety of ways. Thomas said a main reason for his work at schools like Black Hawk is to engage students with art and encourage young people to harness their creativity.

Thomas began the school mural on Wednesday. Only two days before, he began sketching out ideas for the wall. The goal was to represent all school subjects from those studied by kindergartners to seniors in high school. Thomas planned to put the finishing touches on the mural Friday evening, working into the early hours of Saturday morning to complete the colorful entryway.