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Gaul: The artist behind the Mississippi mermaid

Gaul: The artist behind the Mississippi mermaid

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Ever since I wrote a story in June about the painting of a mural called "The Mississippi Mermaid" in Bettendorf, I've wanted to talk to the young artist whose talented hand drew the mermaid's face.

The face is captivating — beautiful in the traditional sense of the word, with a gold eye.

Where does such talent come from, and where does it hope to go?

Last week I met mermaid maker Madelynn Vogt, a 2018 graduate of Davenport West High School, at the mural site, a concrete retaining wall just east of the intersection of 18th Street and Lincoln Road.

The 177-foot-long mural with a climate change theme was painted through the Metro Arts Youth Apprenticeship Program operated by Quad-City Arts, Rock Island. The program hires aspiring young artists to work under a professional leader with the goal of helping them build professional and artistic skills and, at the same time, make the Quad-Cities a more enriching place in which to live.

Vogt, 19, said she was about 11 when she "got serious" about drawing, especially realistic faces. "I just love doing portraits, love doing people," she said, adding that she has a special interest in fantasy creatures.

For the mermaid image she searched online for how the imaginary creatures have been portrayed by artists in the past, then put her own stamp on the drawing.

She chose gold for the mermaid's eye because she "thought it would pop against the blue," which indeed it does. The creature's flowing hair is a combination of black, blue and salmon.

Vogt said she was influenced by her grandmother. "My grandma's an artist and that's what I started with," she said. In addition, her mother had a lot of artist friends, and took Madelynn to art festivals locally and out-of-state, she said.

Vogt's favorite professional artists at the moment are Salvador Dali (1904-1989), a Spanish surrealist painter, and Frida Kahlo, a Mexican painter known for her portraits. Vogt also follows the pages of about 800 artists nationwide on Instagram.

At present she is taking general education classes at Scott Community College, with hopes of becoming an elementary school art teacher, doing art on the side.

After we spoke, I thought about what Vogt said about the influence of her grandmother and mother. The fact is that each and every one of us has influence on the people around us, for good, bad or indifferent.

I am not talking here about a somewhat new definition of "influencer" as referring to a person engaged in marketing through social media. That is, a person who has the power to get other people to buy certain products because they endorse or somehow promote them through their authority, knowledge, position or relationship with his or her audience.

I am talking about the everyday influence we have on the people with whom we come in contact, whether we know that or not.

I called Vogt's grandmother, Patricia Talley, of Davenport, who told me that she "always believed in fostering children's art work.

"There's not much emphasis on that in school," she said. "Fostering creativity is important."

One way she did this was to to keep a large supply of art and craft materials and easy-to-play musical instruments at her house for when her grandchildren came over to visit.

"Of course it's very messy and very loud," she said. "But I think it's worth it.

"And no coloring books," she continued. That is, she didn't want the young "sponges" in her care to simply color within the lines of someone else's picture. She wanted them to be free to make their own pictures, so she gave them blank paper and colored construction paper.

She also sat down with the children and used the materials herself, whether they be clay, paint or pencil. "They had fun, and I did too," she said.

Who knows how much of a hand Talley had in creating the Bettendorf mural?

Who knows how much of a hand we all have in the events happening around us?

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