Painting the Town: New Mural Commemorates Wyoming Women’s Suffrage

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ROCK SPRINGS — A new mural on North Front Street celebrates the 150th anniversary of women’s suffrage in Wyoming.

Commissioned by the City of Rock Springs, “Lioness” is the work of local artist Rose Klein. If you live in Sweetwater County, chances are you already know Klein’s work from her murals inside the Able Hands building on Elk Street or on the First Security Bank Building on Main Street.

CELEBRATING EQULITY

This newest edition to the Downtown Mural Project portrays champions of equality in Wyoming and beyond. “I was asked by the city to create a mural that celebrates the 150th anniversary of women’s suffrage” Klein said. “So, I wanted to portray not just women and not just white women. I wanted to portray all those who helped the movement get started and different faces of people who took first steps.”

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Faces on the mural include early civil rights movement leaders Anna Julia Cooper and Ida B. Wells. Klein said the inclusion of civil rights leaders in the piece points to the fact that the push for equal voting rights in Wyoming wasn’t purely altruistic. While she wanted to celebrate Wyoming’s groundbreaking adoption of women’s suffrage, Klein didn’t want to shy away from unpleasant historical realities either.

When the territorial legislature voted to give women the vote in 1869, it was as much about decreasing the influence of black voters as it was about giving women a voice. “It kind of pissed me off, because you see women’s equality is only there because people in Wyoming didn’t want to recognize that black people also need to have rights,” Klein said.

HISTORY IN THE MAKING

In another juxtaposition, the mural celebrates history while reminding us that the battle for equality is ongoing. “I also, in the mural, have some people who are from modern day who have stepped out of their own social boundaries; for example, Affie Ellis,” Klein said. Ellis is a senator from Wyoming’s eighth district and the first Native American to win election to the Wyoming Senate.

Further demonstrating that equality is an ongoing struggle, Klein pointed to the fact that Wyoming lacks statewide anti-discrimination protections for many people. “You look at Wyoming, and it’s one of the states where a woman can be fired for loving another woman or for originally being born a man,” Klein said.

The protesting figure in the painting is a representation of the ongoing struggle for equality in worker’s rights. The lioness roars toward a capital building with the Wind River Range behind it. Klein said the building is not a specific capital, but a representation of the power of government. “I didn’t put a flag above it, because I want the viewer to decide.”

CREATING OUTSIDE

Outdoor installations certainly come with a unique set of challenges. Klein completed “Lioness” over the course of about three weeks, working on it “pretty much all day” four days a week. Hot August days, rainstorm interruptions and trying to keep tools from blowing away were all part of the process. “It takes work, but I don’t mind. I love it, because seeing it all come together is worth it,” Klein said.

Creating a large mural on a building means painting over and around obstacles that aren’t encountered on a canvas, but Klein embraces that struggle as well. “I think, when a person is making art, the process of layering or mistakes and failures and then just depressing results, they all come back and you just keep working with it. That’s why I fall in love with it, I think,” Klein said.

ALL ABOUT IDEAS

Klein said she likes having her work outside and available to the community. Above all, she wants the focus to be on the ideas, not the artist. “I just hope people see the art and they let it talk to them instead of just looking at it and then driving away. That’s kind of the goal here. It’s not to make myself proud. Because, honestly, after finishing a piece of art … you’re never satisfied. But, what you can always be satisfied with is other people learning something and changing something about their life or gathering something worth it,” Klein said.

The city is hoping to move forward with a restoration of the First Security Bank Building. If that happens, it will mean removing Klein’s mural there, but that doesn’t bother her. When her apartment flooded recently and ruined a lot of her work, Klein says it taught her something that also applies to her murals.

“Throwing all this art away, just piece after piece that I’d spent days and hours on, it was a little heartbreaking to realize that if you’re not giving your gift, if you’re not presenting it and letting something else take it, then it’s just going to go to waste. I learned that lesson the hard way. So, just let go of the art when you’ve finished it. That’s it, let it be the art it is. I don’t know, whatever happens, happens.”