Artist, Native Americans hope new Bears Ears mural in Salt Lake City will create ‘a sense of responsibility to the land’

(Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah graphic artist Josh Scheuerman stands in front of his mural of landscapes from Bears Ears National Monument during a dedication ceremony on 800 South near 300 West in Salt Lake City on Friday, Nov. 24, 2017.

As smoke from the slow burn of sage, cedar and juniper filled the crisp, fall air, Carl Moore beat a drum and sang a traditional Lakota prayer, a “thank you” to the creator for the beautiful day and the colorful mural that towered behind him.

Friday’s traditional blessing dedicated Salt Lake City’s newest piece of urban artwork — a 100-foot-by-20-foot landscape of the embattled Bears Ears National Monument in southeastern Utah, a display that includes deep sandstone canyons, colorful desert mesas, red rock formations and forested highlands.

Filled with rock art, ancient cliff dwellings, and thousands of archaeological and cultural sites, “Bears Ears is sacred to Native Americans,” said Moore, a member of the Hopi and Chemehuevi tribes and chairman of PANDOS (Peaceful Advocates for Native Dialogue and Organizing Support). “It’s where we have shrines and religious places and where to go to remember our ancestors.”

The mural, he hopes, will create “a sense of responsibility to the land,” he told those who had gathered in front of the work on the south side of 800 South between 300 and 400 West. The group later celebrated the mural across the street at Fisher Brewing Company, which offers expansive views of the work.

Salt Lake City artist Josh Scheuerman transformed the faded beige and yellow back side of a city owned-building over the last nine days, using 19 gallons of paint in his giant depiction of Indian Creek and North Six-Shooter Bluff against the backdrop of the towering Henry and Boulder Mountain ranges. In all it took him about 30 hours to complete.

A graphic artist and photographer for City Weekly, Scheurerman said he came up with the idea in February, shortly after the Outdoor Industry Association decided to leave Salt Lake City and take its massive, twice-yearly shows somewhere else, claiming the state was indifferent to the protection of public lands.

“I wanted to remind city dwellers that what happens in southern Utah is still tied to us,” he said before the dedication. “I wanted to raise awareness that we lost OR (Outdoor Retailers) and it has a direct effect on us.”

National monuments — and particularly the 1.35 million-acre Bears Ears designation that was championed by the Hopi, Navajo, Ute Indian, Ute Mountain Ute and Zuni tribal governments — has remained a hot-button issues during the subsequent nine months.

Scheurerman said the mural seems even more timely as President Donald Trump plans to visit Utah in December to announce that he will trim the boundaries of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments.

Earlier this year, the Salt Lake City Redevelopment Agency, led by Councilman Derek Kitchen, set aside $150,000 to create public art projects in the Granary District. “Public art can be an economic driver in a neighborhood that needs love and attention,” said Kitchen, who attended the dedication.

The city and Scheurerman are still negotiating to see if the Bears Ears project qualifies for RDA funds.

“I hope he gets paid,” said Kitchen, “because this was my intent and good art should be paid for.”

Katherine Fife lives nearby and said she was glad to see a “meaningful piece of art” come to life in her neighborhood. “We get caught up in urban life and often discount what we don’t see every day,” she said. “This reconnects us to a precious part of the state.”

Another area resident, Evan George, called the mural “an awesome, beautiful piece of artwork” and a significant improvement to the previously bland wall. “It gives the city and local neighborhood more character and meaning.”

As a member of the Navajo tribe, the 23-year-old George said it also is an important statement for an often-marginalized group “whose voices need to be heard.”

“It just feels good,” he added, “to showcase this important and sacred land that needs to be protected.”