What does it take to paint a tribute to Rockford’s most famous baseball team? For a pair of Ohio artists last year, it meant a deep dive into local history and an artistic flair that helped to create a colorful greeting for anyone entering Rockford’s Seventh Street corridor.
Rockford’s Seventh Street corridor is a little more colorful with the addition of a new mural at Sixth Avenue. Artists Jenny Roesel Ustick and Atalie Gagnet spent two weeks last summer crafting their colorful tribute to Rockford’s baseball team, the Peaches, during the 2022 CRE8IV Mural Festival. This is the third mural the pair have done in Rockford.
“Being able to work in Rockford, multiple times, has been just a delight, and I really do consider our friends in Rockford to be like family,” says Ustick.
The idea for the Peaches mural came together during Ustick and Gagnet’s first CRE8IV mural, the portrait of pilot Libby Gardner the pair painted downtown in 2019.
In their research of local history for that first mural, the story of Rockford’s all-women’s professional baseball team – the inspiration for the 1992 film “A League of Their Own” – seemed too good not to share, but the timing wasn’t right. Not until last year, when planning began for a new, more colorful gateway to Rockford’s Midtown District.
“When we were expressing our interest in painting another mural, John Groh and the event organizers remembered we had talked about it in the past,” recalls Ustick. “They said, ‘We think this is the year for the Peaches,’ because Amazon was producing a series called ‘A League of Their Own,’ and it was due out in August. We thought the timing was perfect, too.”
Ustick and Gagnet planned their design well in advance and used a projector to trace the design onto the brick wall. From there, they painted in the colorful backdrop before painstakingly detailing each figure. Not only did the pair complete the mural in less than 12 days, but they also completed a second mural, depicting a repeating 815 pattern on East State Street.
“I was very heartened and comforted when, on more than one occasion, someone would walk up and say, ‘Is that Dorothy so-and-so?’” recalls Ustick. “They recognized who it was and they had a story, in some context, about her. It was really an honor to paint these portraits and to make them recognizable as the amazing figures they were.”
Ustick started this mural with sketches she projected onto the blank wall. This approach usually requires some work at night, so that she can see the projection clearly enough to trace it. Then, she blocked in the background shapes, a peach and block letters with the phrase “play ball.”
“I love that it’s an imperative, like ‘play ball’ – you will play ball,” Ustick says. “I like to imagine these women asserting themselves, and their presence in the league shows just how much potential there was in their careers and how radical it was that they were playing.”
A Cincinnati native, Ustick is an associate professor at University of Cincinnati whose works have been featured across the nation, including New Mexico, Tennessee and her hometown.
Gagnet is a native of Dayton, Ohio, with more than 40 murals to her credit, mostly around Ohio. She works as a mural, sign and graphics painter.
The pair had help from Mike Muething of Cincinnati, who often assists Ustick with her murals.
Ustick and Gagnet relied on reference photos and their own studio sketches to painstakingly spray-paint each of the seven figures that appear on this mural.
Ustick says she lost count of how many cans she consumed in the process. “Oh, I would say it was dozens and dozens,” she laughs.
Ustick and Gagnet chose the mural’s seven figures based on the women’s longevity with the team and their strength as a player or mentor, but the artists also looked for powerful poses as captured in film.
The result is six influential players (left to right): Dorothy “Dottie” Green, whose story bears loose resemblance to Geena Davis’ character in the 1992 film; Dorothy Kamenshek (legs only); Dorothy “Dottie” Ferguson Key; Dorothy Kamenshek (catching); Dorothy “Snookie” Harrell; Mildred “Millie” Deegan; and Amy “Lefty” Applegren.
Two additional figures in this mural are portrayed only in silhouette, as a representation of Toni Stone and Mamie Johnson, two African-American women who played in other leagues but were barred from competing with the Peaches in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.
The mural at 206 N. Seventh St. in Rockford faces the intersection of Sixth Avenue and makes a colorful entrance to Midtown District’s Seventh Street corridor. It’s one of 10 murals to appear in 2022 as part of the CRE8IV Mural Festival and joins a list of roughly 40 murals that now adorn properties around downtown Rockford, South Main Street, North Main Street, Loves Park, Ill., Rockton, Ill., Roscoe, Ill., and Pecatonica, Ill.
This was the third local project by Ustick and Gagnet, who also created designs at 211 and 815 E. State St.
For a full map of all local murals, visit gorockford.com/CRE8IV.