Friday, June 14, 2024

How one muralist is uniting Lansing with one brushstroke

October 10, 2023
Artist Sara Pulver at her downtown Lansing shop "Dear Ollie," named after her dog on Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2023. Pulver is the artist behind a mural in the new Strange Matter Coffee location in the MSU Union.
Artist Sara Pulver at her downtown Lansing shop "Dear Ollie," named after her dog on Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2023. Pulver is the artist behind a mural in the new Strange Matter Coffee location in the MSU Union.

Strange Matter Coffee. Bangos. Lansing Shuffle. Social Sloth Cafe. Sprinkled throughout Lansing, these small businesses have something in common - the walls all have traces of artist Sara Pulver’s work

A Laingsburg-native, Pulver founded her own small business in 2014. The stationary and print shop, Dear Ollie, is located in the back of Lansing bookstore, A Novel Concept. Pulver said the shop’s namesake is her dog, Oliver.

“He is a consistent troublemaker, but he’s also the biggest cuddle bug you’ll ever meet,” Pulver said. “His personality felt like the sentiment behind a lot of my cards and illustrations: snarky but sweet, kindness with a little bit of an edge.”

In 2019, Pulver added mural work to her repertoire with her first commercial mural project, a painting of a sloth, on the side of the Washington Square building where the Lansing cafe Social Sloth was formerly located

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“It was such a learning experience and I fell in love immediately,” Pulver said. “I realized very quickly that I wanted to make that a large part of my career.” 

Since then, Pulver has partnered with a handful of Lansing small business owners, homeowners and the city of East Lansing to add her signature splash of color to the walls of their spaces. The external wall of Biddle City’s shop on Oakland Ave. is Pulver’s current project.

“When we found this building, it was pretty much falling apart and we have spent the last seven years remodeling it ourselves,” Biddle City co-owner and producer Aaron Greer said

In the spring, Biddle City received a 50% matching grant from the city of Lansing to improve the outside of their building as a part of the Facade Improvement Project administered by the Lansing Economic Development Corporation. That’s when he and his colleagues started looking for muralists, Greer said.

There was something different about Pulver than other potential artists, Biddle City co-owner and producer Aaron Word said. He said she matched his and Greer’s level of passion for their creative work.

“She seemed as excited about the prospect of doing the mural as we were,” Word said. “I don't think anyone else was there. She didn’t treat it like a job, she treated it like she was going to get to do something fun and exciting.”

The goal of the mural is to match the interior remodeling of the shop and beautify the community in an eye-catching, thought-provoking way, Greer said. The mural is set to be complete this fall.

For Pulver, public art is a way for her to interact with the Lansing community.

“The experience of creating public art is so much different than creating art in a little bubble or in a studio space because it is interactive, whether you want it to be or not,” Pulver said. “The conversations and people I meet just while out painting is really spectacular.”

Whether the canvas is a 12-by-15-foot wall or a 3-by-5-inch card, art is her platform, Pulver said.

“The values behind my messaging stay the same,” Pulver said. “I like to create with the values I hold close to my heart like wildlife conservation, mental health issues, social justice issues. Being a woman and a queer artist, I bring that into everything I do.”

Growing up in the Lansing area, Pulver said she has witnessed the community change - something she tries to reflect in her murals

“In Lansing specifically, I feel like we’ve had a self-esteem problem for a little bit,” Pulver said. “It’s been fun to see us coming around to the other side of that and a renewed gritty sense of pride in our city. That’s something I deeply relate to and want to convey." 

Pulver said being able to represent that in her own hometown is important to her

The small business network and the arts scene in Lansing has grown in congruence in the past few years, Greer said. That support network has allowed entrepreneurs and creatives to thrive.

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“The great thing about Lansing is that it’s a small, big town,” Greer said. “A lot of creatives in this town know each other. We’re friends with other business owners that do the same thing we do. The arts community is really thriving in Lansing.”

Currently, Pulver is working toward growing her stationary business. She said she hopes to get to a point where the shop can self-sustain to give her the freedom to undertake more mural projects

“I’ve found a way to fit all my niche interests and passions into one little bubble with having the shop and being able to do my mural work,” Pulver said.

Pulver said she recently hired an employee, making her feel real ownership over the shop while setting up a payroll as well as allowing her more headspace for mural work.

Through snarky greeting cards or eclectic murals, Pulver said she hopes to continue investing in the Lansing community and beyond.

“I’ve done a few murals for Airbnb’s and that’s something I would really like to dive in further and explore more in the next five years,” Pulver said. “That blends into another one of my passions, which is travel. Being able to travel somewhere to paint and then come home sounds like a dream come true.”

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