09 Aug Round Up: Pretty Privies
Idaho’s Outhouse Murals Elevate the Experience
Walking into one of those concrete outhouses at trailheads or river access points, visitors are never quite sure what they’ll find. Expectations are low, and, while many opt to hold their breath, swiftness is key. But vault toilet visitors in some Idaho locations might be pleasantly surprised. In an effort to deter vandalism, Idaho Fish and Game partnered with nonprofits — such as Friends of the Teton River and the Teton Regional Land Trust, among others — hiring area artists to create colorful murals that depict local landscapes and wildlife.
Teton Valley, Idaho-based artist Helen Seay has painted several murals in outhouses around the state. Her first creation at Bates Teton River Access Park in Driggs — which was also her first large-scale endeavor — features a colorful scene that showcases fish, anglers, and local flora and fauna. Nearby — for the South Bates facility that’s located in a wetland area — –Seay went with a sandhill crane theme that also includes anglers casting into peaceful waters. The artist’s murals in a pair of outhouses near Henrys Lake — a popular spot for fishing and birding — also reflect those themes, while another pair near Challis highlight the salmon and wildlife that the town is known for.
Seay spends around 50 to 60 hours on each mural, and she starts by focusing on the specific design elements — selecting the animals and landscape features to depict, and the colors and layered textures to use. Once started, the artist hones in on animated details, such as one work that includes mountains reflected in the eyes of a fish.
For each project, Seay also considers the overall mood that she’d like to express. “What kind of vibe do I want to create in the bathroom, for people to walk into this totally unexpected place and have wall-to-wall art?” she says, noting that these outhouses are usually quite unpleasant.
Luckily for the artist, her work took place in newly built facilities. But since they’re unheated, and many of her murals were created in the late fall, she often dealt with freezing fingers, snow, rain, malfunctioning spray paint cans, and paint that wouldn’t dry in the cold, among other things.
Hoping to paint more in the future, Seay appreciates the way her murals can brighten peoples’ days while they’re handling essential business, helping them feel a sense of calm instead of dread and angst. “They go into it like, ‘Oh God, it’s going to be stinky and terrible,’ and it’s not,” she says. “Well, it may be stinky, but at least it’s colorful!” — Kristen Pope