According to Portsmouth Murals Inc. (PMI), the stimulus for the Portsmouth floodwall murals began in February 1992. Local physician Lou Chaboudy and his wife, Ava, hosted a AAA motor coach tour that included a stop in Steubenville, Ohio.
After seeing Steubenville’s murals, the doctor apparently began to wonder why Portsmouth could not have something very similar. It would be difficult to call the following an exact quote, but according to PMI, Chaboudy’s thinking was this: “Our own floodwall has protected us well, but it is an eyesore.”
According to PMI, other civic leaders visited Steubenville in June 1992 and began to agree with the Portsmouth physician. The first mural fundraisers were held in December 1992 and April 1993. PMI was formed as a nonprofit, all volunteer organization which oversees the murals to this day.
Of course, you easily could know all this – if you don’t already – by downloading PMI’s brand-new floodwall mural app to your smart phone titled simply Portsmouth Murals. The app contains a map and 61 pages of information on each of the murals and their history. The launch of the app is only one recent project undertaken by PMI in its ongoing efforts to improve and preserve the floodwall murals, which have now been a significant part of Portsmouth since the dedication of the first mural in May 1993.
Incidentally, the first mural depicts a view of Portsmouth in 1903, as seen from the Kentucky side of the Ohio River. The mural was based on a photo from the local collection of Carl Ackerman.
The new Portsmouth Murals application, which can be downloaded onto your iPhone or android phone from the Apple Store and on Google Play free of charge, utilizes a platform called MyTours for the digital murals tour. The tour includes an updated audio tour featuring the voice of local radio legend Chip Maillet, updated text content on each mural with original research gathered by PMI board members, and, of course, the mural panels themselves.
The PMI app started to become reality in late 2017 when PMI became the recipient of a $15,000 Appalachian Regional Commission grant. The grant was awarded to the organization after Adam Phillips, former project manager for the Southern Ohio Port Authority, applied for the funding as part of the Cool and Connected Program, a program advertised to help rural Appalachian communities plan for greater broadband accessibility. PMI was awarded the funding to design and build a digital platform that would serve as way to digitally enhance the overall murals experience.
Phillips – with key contributions from Kyle Webb, formerly of Portsmouth, and Jaime Tuggle of Minford – managed the project along with PMI board members Butch Stall and Chris Lute.
The project included digitizing, enhancing, and displaying each mural panel and incorporating historic research as well as cultural and artistic commentary for each mural.
Along with the digital platform, the grant funds were also used to produce improved signage for the murals, including a complete replacement of the existing pedestal display panels along Front Street which provide key information for each mural.
A small historical tidbit from the first restored floodwall kiosk reads as follows: “The initial mural project was completed in October of 2002 with over 2,100 linear feet of art and 52 magnificently painted murals. Additional murals have been added since then.”
A few historical tidbits contained on the “Welcome” page of the PM app states the floodwall was built following the 1937 flood. It is approximately 21 feet high and over 2,100 feet long on Front Street. The murals cover over 43,000 square feet.
“This project has been a true labor of love for all of us,” Phillips said. “It has taken us over a year to get to this point, but it’s so important that we get this right. So many people have poured their hearts and souls into producing these iconic displays and we want to honor those efforts with something very special.”
As much as is possible, the application map function includes the location of the subject represented in each mural. As Phillips explains, “If a visitor is reading about the Portsmouth Spartans and wants to know where the location of Spartan Stadium is, or if that person wants to see the sunset from Alexandria Point for themselves, those locations are already marked in the application.”
For long time PMI board member Butch Stall, the project really is the culmination of years of work.
“We want to take all of the knowledge and research that has been accumulated over the years and make it more accessible for visitors and for mural enthusiasts,” he said.
To Phillips, the project represents an opportunity to help showcase the community and all it has to offer.
“We really see these murals as a gateway into our community. We want to enhance the exploration of these beautiful murals, sure, but we also want to connect people with the community behind these murals. Each one of them represents a vital piece of our history and our community. The digital application is going to help make these murals real for people. The application is going to give users the tools to explore these stories further and to see these places for themselves. That’s just a magical thing.”
PMI plans a ribbon cutting ceremony and public unveiling of the new mural kiosks along Front Street at 1:00 p.m., April 27 at the Front Street kiosk directly in front of the Scioto County Welcome Center.