Justin Hayes works on his mural Wednesday night on the wall of a granary warehouse at Yampa Valley Feeds. Because Hayes works as a carpenter during the day, he can only paint in the evenings and on weekends.

Photo by Jack Weinstein

Justin Hayes works on his mural Wednesday night on the wall of a granary warehouse at Yampa Valley Feeds. Because Hayes works as a carpenter during the day, he can only paint in the evenings and on weekends.

Artist paints mural to commemorate Hayden’s agricultural heritage

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Hayes used this image, dated 1913, as the inspiration for his mural. The image is from “Hayden,” part of the Images of America series.

— As the sun set Wednesday night over the hills near Hayden, Justin Hayes worked with brush and paint to re-create a nearly 100-year-old image, a depiction of the town’s agricultural heritage.

Hayes, a 29-year-old Hayden native, is painting a 10-foot-high, 14-foot-wide mural. His canvas is mostly a corrugated tin wall on the side of the east granary warehouse at Yampa Valley Feeds.

His hands and jeans spattered with paint, Hayes worked to fill in details as he hummed along with Chuck Ragan songs emanating from a small CD player about 10 feet to his left. About 20 feet to Hayes’ right, his girlfriend, Payje Bier, who grew up in Steamboat Springs, sat on the trunk of his 1965 blue Buick Wildcat, watching and snapping the occasional photo.

He stopped working long enough to explain why he took on the project. Hayes said he’s been dying to paint a mural all summer.

“I grew up here,” he said. “Right after high school, I went away, did a lot of traveling. I’ve been everywhere. I didn’t appreciate living here when I was younger. Traveling around made me appreciate Hayden. So I started looking in the Hayden book and found a picture I thought depicted what my idea of Hayden is.”

He found the picture from 1913 in “Hayden,” part of the Images of America series. Hayden historian Jan Leslie wrote the captions for the book’s photos, which were compiled by former Hayden Heritage Center curator Mary Pat Dunn. It depicts a rancher driving a steam-powered wheat thresher.

“This 1913 photograph shows the steam engine operating at George Pearson’s place,” Leslie wrote. “The long drive-belt strung from the tractor to the thresher turned the gears for the threshing machine. Steam-driven threshers became widely used after the mid-1800s and greatly reduced the intensive labor previously needed in raising grain.”

So after driving around town with Bier in late June and early July, Hayes found his wall on one of Yampa Valley Feeds’ granary warehouses. The next day, he approached owners Tammie and Patrick Delaney.

Hayes, a 1999 Hayden High School graduate, showed them a portfolio of his work, what Tammie Delaney described as mostly larger graffiti-type murals. She said Hayes, who hadn’t at that time identified the photo he wanted to re-create, assured them it would be something that represented Hayden. They agreed.

Delaney hasn’t been disappointed. “I love it.” she said. “I can’t imagine a better image than the wheat thresher.

“The approach we took was if we didn’t like it, we would cover it up with silver paint,” Delaney said. “I don’t think it will be covered up with silver paint any time soon.”

The project started Aug. 26. Hayes first painted a white rectangle on the warehouse wall. He projected the image onto it, to trace an outline of the detail — from the creases in the rancher’s pants to the cracks between the slats of wood of the barrels in the foreground.

Hayes, who credits watching his mom, “an incredible artist,” for his talent, started painting a couple of days later. Using three colors, a light-tone, medium-tone and black, he created a palette of beiges, oranges and browns to brighten the black-and-white image.

A carpenter in Steamboat by day, Hayes has been able to work on the project only in the evenings and on weekends. By Wednesday, he had put in about 15 hours. By today, when he hopes to finish, Hayes estimates he’ll have spent 30 to 40 hours on the mural.

He’s pleased with his work so far. But he’s happier to have gotten the opportunity. Hayes said he lucked out with the Delaneys and their willingness to let him use their wall for his mural.

But the way Tammie Delan­ey describes it, Hayden is lucky Hayes wanted to create something that would be a lasting symbol of the small town’s history.

“With art, it’s so good at telling a story without having to use words. One thing I think is extraordinary about this town in this valley is the strength of its agricultural heritage,” she said and added that sometimes it’s difficult to pass that history to future generations without working mills and tractors moving wheat through town. “I think in many respects, his piece is part of that puzzle about how we communicate the importance of agriculture in this region.”

After living in Florida, Germany, Las Vegas, California and “lots of other places,” Hayes said he wanted to come home. In part for Bier, but Hayes said he loves Hayden’s beauty and simplicity.

“It’s kind of away from the rest of the world,” he said. “This is a place I’m inspired by. I feel like I do my best work when I’m in Hayden.”

— To reach Jack Weinstein, call 871-4203 or e-mail jweinstein@steamboatpilot.com

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