In March 2017, artist Faring Purth visited Forest Park. She didn’t stay long, but while in town she contacted Jayne Ertel and Heidi Vance, long-time owners of Team Blonde, who also owned Counter Coffee at the time.
Purth, famous for her haunting and evocative public murals, often depicting women, asked Ertel and Vance if she could paint a mural on the west side of the Counter Coffee building.
What do you say when a famous artist asks to paint public art on your building? Yes, of course. The only request they had, said Ertel, was that the mural be family friendly. Other than that, she and Vance had no idea what to expect.
Purth started and finished within a few days, and Forest Park was home to a stunning piece of public art, a woman named Grace.
This was before the Circle Avenue Cover Our Rust project brought color to the bridge, and before artist Anthony Lewellen was commissioned by the Shedd Aquarium to paint a mural on the side of Healy’s Westside at 7321 Madison Street. It was, really, the first of its kind in town.
“The mural didn’t belong to Counter Coffee or to Team Blonde,” said Ertel. “It belonged to the world. It was created as public art, and we promised we would protect Grace.”
For the past few years, Grace has, well, graced Circle Avenue. But now she needs a new home.
In early 2019, Ertel and Vance decided to focus their attention on Team Blonde, and Jacques Shalo wanted to take over Counter Coffee. In July 2020, Shalo changed the name to Kribi Coffee and asked Ertel and Vance if he could extend his brand design onto the space where Grace was.
“It made sense,” said Ertel. “Purth’s mural didn’t complement Shalo’s new brand and design, and we supported him in extending his brand and colors along the side of the building.”
One thing was certain, though. They would not paint over Grace.
“She didn’t belong to us,” said Ertel. “This was public art, created to be seen. And we couldn’t get rid of an important piece of street art.” Since the mural had been painted on boards, it could be disassembled, and Ertel and Vance had it carefully deconstructed, board by board, so it could be stored until a new – public – home can be found.
Ertel and Vance said it’s important that Grace’s new location is somewhere public, somewhere that people can “enjoy her company.”
They’ve been talking to the Chamber of Commerce’s Economic Development Committee to see if any businesses are interested, and the Forest Park Public Library might have some ideas. They also plan to reach out to the Forest Park Arts Alliance for ideas on where Grace can move.
“She needs a new home,” said Ertel. And it will have to be large enough to accommodate the mural, which, once reconstructed, is about 16 feet wide by 12 feet tall.