From ‘mud’ to mountainscape | SteamboatToday.com

From ‘mud’ to mountainscape

Drywall artist transforms walls of Phippsburg's Black Dog Inn

Melinda Dudley

— During her stay at the Black Dog Inn in Phippsburg, Bonnie Brokaw has not been the typical hotel guest.

The heavy-equipment operator from Lake George, staying in Phippsburg while working for West Pueblo-based K.R. Swerdfeger Construction on Oak Creek’s sewer line rehabilitation project, has put her more artistic talents to use for Black Dog Inn owners Marlene and Michael Smith.

During her stay, Brokaw has spent her free time crafting a three-dimensional mountainscape on the walls of the Black Dog Inn, using an innovative technique where she sculpts with wet drywall, creating an end result similar to traditional bas-relief. Brokaw herself does not even have a name for it.

“Contractors would call it ‘texture’ – call it whatever you want,” Brokaw said.

During the summer, the Smiths were at work on the hotel lobby – their latest target in a slew of renovations and improvements since they purchased the Black Dog Inn in 2004.

“I had this ugly wallpaper,” Marlene Smith said. “Bonnie was like, ‘I can fix that.'”

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“There were some fellows that came in to do drywall,” Brokaw said. “And I was like, ‘Oh, I do drywall.'”

Brokaw showed the Smiths pictures of some of her past work, much of it in custom homes, and they were sold on the idea.

Brokaw has no formal training – in her words, she was “afraid” to paint until her husband made her. She tried out the technique in a stroke of genius while redecorating at her own house, and she eventually wants to be able to make her art full-time.

“I woke up one morning, and I went down and put mountains on my bathroom wall. And they turned out perfect,” Brokaw said.

Brokaw designs her project right on the wall with the “mud,” creating texture in wet drywall with trowels and small sculptor’s tools, then goes back once it’s dry and paints in the color.

“The mud takes just as long as the painting – maybe longer, actually,” Brokaw said. “It’s much harder than a regular painting.

“Leave it to me to pick something twice as hard.”

Since her first in-home project two years ago, each project, including the Black Dog Inn, brings new challenges.

“There’s things I never tried, like a moose,” Brokaw said. “This was my first cabin, too. It turned out pretty well.”

Brokaw is about 130 hours into the project at the Black Dog Inn, and she currently is putting final touches on the snow-capped mountains that wrap around the lobby and travel up the staircase.

“It’s amazing to see the stages it goes through. It turned out pretty cool,” Marlene said. “It looks completely different sometimes in the different lights.”

Marlene still is gushing about her favorite feature, right behind the registration desk.

“You see the little teepees back there?” she said.

The Black Dog Inn will host an open house from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday to show off its latest addition.