Pedestrians as well as car owners are being treated to two art displays in Kent that they might not have expected to see while walking around town or bringing a car in for service.
Wall murals in both a downtown alley and an automotive service center reflect the city’s history as well as a young man’s hometown spirit.
Strolling down Burbick Way headed to South Water Street, Ryan Sole and Adam Baldwin are surprised to see both the art, and the artist. “For real? That’s awesome man, good job. That is really cool.”
Henry Van’t Hooft created the striking black and white 10-by-25 foot wall mural from a historic photo of a familiar Kent scene.
“This is the Pufferbelly, which is now a restaurant located in downtown Kent,” says the artist, “but this is during the time it was functioning as a train station. There’s just some passengers getting ready to board. With the train in the station and just the people, it has a very nice story to it.”
Good artistic deed
“I wanted to do something that was different. I wanted to connect it with my personal interest which was art.”
Scout masters were always aware of Van’t Hooft’s interest. “I pretty much always had a sketch book with me.”
He got into scouting in kindergarten and art not long after.
“Japanese comic book styles. And that’s really gotten me into wanting to be an illustrator and an artist.”
Van’t Hooft grew up with a favorite anime comic book hero. “The character himself was like an outsider. He just wanted the attention and recognition of the people who wanted nothing to do with him.”
As a victim of bullying, Van’t Hooft could relate.
“And it just kind of helped me get through tough times in high school. And from there, it’s like ‘I wish I could make a story or something that would help someone else feel they have someone to connect with.”
His connection to his hometown is something else he feels deeply. “We moved here when I was about 2, so Kent’s always been home to me.”
At the Kent Historical Society he found inspiration for the Eagle Scout project.
“Photos of trains and train stations because it’s just been such a big part of the history of Kent.” Also, his father’s a lifelong model-train hobbyist and train enthusiast so,“I grew up looking at trains,."
Part of Kent’s new look
The non-profit revitalization organization Main Street Kent helped him get some of the money he needed to complete the project, found the spot for the mural, and honored the young artist’s effort with its Ronald Burbick Award. Burbick is the Kent businessman credited with spurring recent downtown redevelopment.
Passerby Ryan Sole says the Burbick Way mural fits the town’s new look. “I feel like it just really captures Kent.”
Sole has noticed other beautification efforts.
“Especially because it’s huge, but I mean, just anywhere you walk you can pretty much see some form of art in some way shape or form. So, it’s pretty cool. It’s entertaining.”
Muralist Van’t Hooft likes what he’s seeing, too. Downtown’s Water Street Tavern now also has a wall mural, and he’s noticing floral displays and artistic bike racks, too.
“It’s just incredible to see the inspiration that’s come because of it, and just how one individual with an idea can just make the downtown area so much nicer than it was a few years ago.”
Art for car owners
On the other side of Kent, Rex Sloan didn’t expect to see art when he brought his car in to Klaben Ford’s service center on State Route 59. But he likes what he sees spread across two inside walls.
“Pretty nifty stuff,” says Sloan.
Unlike Van’t Hooft’s downtown mural, this one is in color. Sloan thinks the yellow and blue Kent State colors really pop.
”I think it’s dynamite. I just like the striking effect it has on you. I’d like to have one in my house.”
Klaben Service Director Carl Bejorian says Van't Hooft’s second mural, also based on the historic Kent train photo, has been a conversation starter, "people asking about it or recognizing the train station or recognizing the esplanade. Henry’s the man, yeah.”
Van’t Hooft says he worked the new Kent State University Esplanade into the service center mural at the request of Klaben Ford.
“They said they wanted to do old Kent and new Kent, and this is one of the images that stood out of the new Kent.”
For the Klaben service center wall mural, unlike the Eagle Scout project downtown, Henry had a customer to please.
“This one was more of a commissioned piece whereas the other one was more of a volunteer effort.”
The Klaben Ford commission is the first time Van’t Hooft ‘s been paid for his art.
“The money’s definitely helping to cover the cost of materials and supplies for my major, but it just also helps to feel that sense of recognition and pride that you’re making something and somebody actually wants to pay for it.”
He feels good about what began with a Boy Scout’s good deed.
“It’s just, it’s an incredible feeling to know that you’ve made a permanent change. It’s really neat to have something to say like, 'I helped to improve where I live, where I come from, where I go to school.'”