Creating, keeping the connection

TIPP CITY — The serenity of Charleston Falls has leapt into the Tipp City Public Library, all thanks to Rusty Harden’s paintbrush.

“I truly live to ‘create the connection,’ and this is an example. This isn’t just a pretty picture; look at the parks. I don’t think there’s been a time in most of our lifetime that parks have been more important than this past year,” Harden said.

Harden is something of a local legend among the Tipp City art scene and was approached by the library to turn the double doors of the John K. Senseman meeting room into a mural. The project started in early December and has reached its completion, depicting a scene familiar to many who have trekked through Charleston Falls Preserve over the last year as a means of escaping the confines quarantining has brought. Harden herself is fond of taking early morning hikes and using the time as a means to recharge — with full artistic freedom at her fingertips, she felt inspired by the way nature has connected the community when all “normal” aspects of life have seemingly come to a standstill due to the pandemic.

“That earth, this nature stuff — it really resonated with a lot of families, and it’s a great representation of this year,” Harden said. “Everywhere you went, if there was a park, and you could walk — they were out there in droves. As bad as everything is, there are things — and the park was such a gift. That’s what the purpose was for this — that people went to nature, and people connected during this time.”

The mural itself is comprised of oil against wood and was a familiar undertaking for Harden, though this is the first mural she’s tackled for the library. The most challenging part of the mural was getting the sycamore tree right; Harden says it scared her, because everyone knows what the falls look like and what the sycamore in question looks like, and it took her a couple of tries before it came out the way she wanted it to. Even with the challenges, the mural had an ease of coming to life in front of her, in part with the guidance of photographs.

“There’s nothing more exciting than hearing the falls before you see them, and so, while painting it, I was reliving my experience, too,” Harden said. “How I see it, and how I sense it, is often different from how other people respond to it. I feel it differently than I see it, so photos help.”

Even with photos, Harden had to condense elements that are part of the mural in order to create a cohesive piece; while the relation of sycamore to rock to waterfall to flowing river may not be precise, all the elements are there and represented and work together.

“That was fun, to put in important things,” Harden said while pointing to a rectangular-shaped rock at the base of the waterfall. “If you’ve been to the park, everyone knows that rectangle-shaped rock. It was fun.”

While the Tipp City Public Library is currently closed to the public and the John K. Senseman meeting room goes unused for the time being, Harden says she’s looking forward to when the doors open again and the community is able to come and see the mural.

“It’s something to look forward to; it’s not in an area where a lot of people come to, so it’ll be a surprise,” Harden said. “It is exactly in the right place, no matter how much it gets visited. It is what it is, and it’s good.”