Muralist leaves his mark

Jacob Lane · Wednesday, August 13, 2014
As the scaffolding shakes, Burlington's modern day Michelangelo steady's himself for a moment. Around 20 feet up he takes a breath, then slowly applies life to the wall.

For a week and a half he's spent 16 hours a day behind the brush. At the front of the gym the words "West Liberty Comets" sprawl, 20 feet wide. Comet blue, they glisten in the light.

Boy, does that glitter sparkle.

"When I first tell them I'm going to use glitter, they're shocked. Then they say don't make it too circusy or girly," says Craig Jacobo. "But when I'm done the first thing they say is, 'that glitter really adds to it.'"

Jacobo was commissioned by the WL Community School District to paint several murals in the high school gymnasium last week. A lifelong painter, this marks the ninth time he's brought a school's mascot to life on its walls.

Besides the lettering, he's painting several images of Comets breaking through the wall from outerspace with stars twinkling in the background. He gets the twinkling effect by using sequence.

"You've got to put it near a light to get the effect," he adds. "This is the first time I've tried this."

Jacobo recently completed several murals for the Mid-Prairie school system. Word of mouth brought his talent to West Liberty through Athletic Director James Laughlin.

In fact, the merit of his work is how he thrives. Jacobo hardly advertises because, when all is finished, his painting does all of the talking.

"I try to make each job better than the last," says Jacobo. "If I did a bad job here, that'd probably be it for me."

He has two daughters, Danielle, 23, and Breanna, 18. While he's been doing murals since the 1980s on the sides of buildings and basements, his eldest daughter got him started in schools.

Danielle was a student at Wapello High School. Whenever she or the school needed decoration they called on Jacobo. Then, in 1997, the school commissioned him to paint the gym with the school's mascot.

Ever since then he's been busy painting schools. Believe it or not, it’s hard to find a muralist in the midwest.

Like Michaelangelo, Jacobo is a gruff looking guy with wild looking hair. When not painting, he's a construction worker, but inside the man lies a poetic soul with the free nature of an artist.

"I used to do caveman drawings before I was even born inside of my mom," he jokes.

But there's a seriousness in his art that drives him through the long hours. Jacobo works until 4 in the morning, then he wearily makes his way to a tent set up in the high school choir room. A few hours of sleep and he's back at it.

There are several steps before he completes a mural. After the school board approves his concept drawings he grids them out. Each one inch square in the drawing represents a one foot square on the wall.

He measures out an actual sized grid on a giant piece of paper, draws out the mural, then pokes holes along the lines with tool similar to the spurs on cowboys boots.

"Then I tape my paper up there, powder it, and when I take my paper off that powder has gone through those holes and leaves an outline," he says.

In all, Jacobo spent ten straight days completing the gym. He works alone with the sound of radio echoing through the gym corridor. Only a few saw him at work in West Liberty.

But now Jacobo is gone, off doing another mural in another part of Iowa. He has left his legacy, and his daughters’ names, hidden on our West Liberty walls.
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