A Concrete Structure Becomes a Public Attraction in a North Carolina Community

An award-winning mural showing a river otter decorates a large water tank and makes a strong impression on the community.

A Concrete Structure Becomes a Public Attraction in a North Carolina Community

The otter mural on the Sides Road water tank brings attention to the locality’s water resources and their importance.

Community outreach and education take many forms at Winston-Salem/Forsyth County (North Carolina) Utilities. Most prominent is a 50-foot-tall, 290-foot-wide mural of a North American river otter on the side of a ground-level water tank overlooking a heavily traveled parkway through town.

Named “A Morning on the Yadkin River,” the mural shows an otter set in a wilderness river scene with waterfalls spilling in the background. Otters are native to the Yadkin River, the main drinking water source for the utility.

Painted in 2018 by a Florida-based artist known as Daas, the mural earned a spot in the Top 12 of Tnemec annual competition and appears as the April photo in the company’s 2019 calendar. Funding was through a $38,000 grant from the Public Art Commission.

Museum inspiration

Daas was chosen from nearly 50 respondents to a call-for-artists sponsored by the county art commission. A committee of representatives from the city, the art commission and the community at large narrowed the proposals down to five finalists.

“We chose Daas because we liked his style and we liked his subject of the otter,” says Bill Brewer, water treatment superintendent. “It brings attention to our water resources and what they mean to our city.” Brewer was the utility’s representative on the selection committee.      

Daas got his inspiration to include the otter in the water theme after visiting the local children’s museum and observing the excitement given to its live-otter exhibit. After power-washing the 10 million-gallon concrete tank, Daas and an assistant spent nearly three weeks creating the mural. Using a power lift to reach the tank’s 70-foot height, they rolled on the same type of Tnemec paint used two years before in rehabilitating the tank.

Celebrating water

“We had just painted the tank a couple of years ago, so it was a good time for a project like that,” Brewer says. “It didn’t take too much prep work before the artist could begin.” Using painter’s tape and expanding from a small sketch, Daas used the tape as a guide and reference marks for the spatial relationships of his geometric creation.

“It was one of the wildest things I’ve ever seen,” Brewer says. “It looked like a whole bunch of hieroglyphics all over the tank. The mural on the Sides Road water tank is seen by thousands of people every day. It really makes a big impact on the community.”

Another big impact is in the form of activities hosted by the utility to celebrate the annual American Water Works Association Drinking Water Week event. This year’s theme was “Protect the Source,” and it included a children’s art contest and a tour of the 25 mgd P. W. Swann Water Treatment Plant.

Tour attendees learned about water plant operations and had a chance to win tickets to a concert by country music star Lee Greenwood and his band or kayak rentals on Salem Lake, the utility’s other water source.  

Special observance

The art contest for children ages 6-8 and 9-12 focused on local water sources and the benefits of tap water. Prizes included free passes to the children’s museum and the city swimming pools.  

Brewer says Drinking Water Week was special this year because it was headed by the department’s new communication team, Gale Ketteler and Kira Boyd. “This was the first year we were involved, and the contest was my colleague Kira’s initiative,” says Ketteler, public information officer.

Even though the mural didn’t win first place in the Tnemec contest, utility leaders were glad to have earned a spot in the calendar. Ketteler says, “It’s one more way for us to promote the value of our services for the public.”


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