Oct. 7—TABOR — At first glance, it looks like an ordinary paint job.
A coat of flat, white primer paint almost completely covered the north side of the Tabor Public Library on Wednesday afternoon, as Robbie Jelsma worked diligently to get primer applied to the brick surface of the historic building.
But instead of preparing the surface for a solid-color paint job, Jelsma is getting it ready to portray historic images of the small southeastern South Dakota community as part of the town's 150th anniversary, the preparation for which is now underway.
"I like murals the most," said Jelsma, who operates the Portfolio 51 studio in Springfield. "With these murals, there are limits and time constraints and challenges with the weather. So it's a challenge."
As an artist who quit his job with an engineering firm to pursue his passion full-time, Jelsma is known for his tattoo artistry and murals. A 2010 graduate of Bon Homme High School, he works out of his grandparents' former farm near Springfield while bringing his inspired spray paint work to communities throughout the area.
He found a love for art at an early age, but did not immediately think of it as a career. Some of the inspiration to embrace his art full-time was painting public-space murals, which began on a whim just before he left South Dakota State University, where he studied and played football.
"The first one I did was in Brookings. I had never done it before. I was just about to leave college and I was asked if I would try it for the commerce department," Jelsma said. "So I did three or four up there, and then I did a big pheasant mural in Redfield and then two recently in downtown and on 41st Street in Sioux Falls."
Eventually, he decided it was time to leave the 9 to 5 job behind.
"It was something I was doing more and more of, and it pulled me in one direction. And I went that way," Jelsma said.
Jelsma's work drew the attention of leaders in Tabor, who were working on an idea to help mark 150 years of Tabor as a community. Earlier this spring, staff at the local branch of CorTrust Bank approached the Tabor Development Corporation about having a mural painted on the north wall of the library building. The new bank building sits just to the north of the structure.
Mark Ponvondra, treasurer for the Tabor Development Corporation, said the community was open to the idea, and through further cooperation with the Town of Tabor and the Tabor Chamber of Commerce, the project went from idea to reality.
The mural, which will cover approximately 700 square feet of wall, will depict a number of scenes representative of the community. Included will be a representation of Czech Days, the long-running celebration of the area's Czech heritage, as well as images of the Tabor Bluebirds, the local amateur baseball team.
"We wanted to showcase the Czech culture," Povondra said. "That's Czech Days and a plate of kolaches. And our Tabor castle entrance sign will be part of it. We also have a picture of a baseball player representing the Tabor Bluebirds, which is a big part of Tabor. And some roses, as well, as they are the national flower of the Czech Republic."
The building was converted into the public library in the late 1980s, and still serves in that role today. It makes a good candidate for a mural due to its large flat northern wall and a good amount of room between it and the building to its north, which will allow passers-by to get a good look at the work.
Jeslma began his work by power washing the surface, patching some of the rough spots of the wall with mortar and then dived headlong into the primer stage. He expects the work will take him 80 to 90 hours, depending on his schedule and the weather. Working primarily in the spray paint medium, he'll touch up some of the finer details of the mural with an airbrush.
And thanks to the wall the community selected, the mural should stand as a representative of Tabor history for years to come.
"This one will last a long, long time because it's a block wall and on the north side of the building, so it's not getting a lot of sunlight. Brick or cinder block is the best to paint. (Murals on) wood siding don't last as long as having them on brick," Jelsma said.
Povondra said details of the 150th anniversary celebration, which will be observed Saturday, April 23, 2022, are still taking shape, but a town meeting to discuss the finer points will be held at 7 p.m. Oct. 18 in the town Community Building. But there are some ideas floating around, including an afternoon program, a re-enactment of the purchase of the land on which the Town of Tabor now stands, as well as a meal and a polka band.
"For a community of our size, this is going to be a nice attraction for us, not just during Czech Days but throughout the whole year."
— Mark Povondra, Tabor Development Corporation Treasurer
And while the library mural will certainly be a centerpiece of that celebration, Povondra said there is the possibility that more murals could be painted in the community.
"I think so. For a community of our size, this is going to be a nice attraction for us, not just during Czech Days but throughout the whole year," Povondra said. "So if the opportunity arises to have more painted in town, we'd probably act on that."
For now, the first of possibly multiple murals is taking shape at the Tabor Community Library on Lidice Street, which serves as the town's main drag. Once completed, it will greet visitors to the community with a colorful display of images from the town of Tabor.
With both Czech Days and the town's 150th anniversary celebration on tap next year, it will serve as another attraction for locals and visitors alike.
"It will be a very busy year," Povondra said.