Artist gives fire department playful new look

BUCKHANNON — Cartoon characters and playful creatures are a fun addition to the Buckhannon Fire Department’s bay doors courtesy of a new partnership between the BFD and Opportunity House Inc.

The artist is Ryan Zirk, who is self-taught and on a mission to inspire creativity in kids.

“There was a kid walking over here the other day and said, ‘It’s Olaf! It’s Olaf!’ and I was like, he gets it. He really gets it,” Zirk said. “It’s all about the kids.”

From Olaf to birds to a planned Bugs Bunny as the Easter Bunny, Zirk is having fun working on a unique canvas.

“I was approached by [temporary career firefighter] Scott Preston to paint these doors,” he said. “Easter is coming up and spring is here. I’m going to paint a big lion here because it comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. I’m going to put a lamb down there.”

Whatever Zirk paints will be temporary, but that’s OK because there are plans to update the doors for the various seasons throughout the year.

“The paint comes off really easy so it won’t last too long,” he said.

Zirk started Monday, March 20 and hopes to finish the sixth and final bay this week. He is only painting the lower panes that can be easily reached  by Zirk and seen by kids like the Olaf fan.

With earbuds in and a tarp spread out, Zirk gets in the artist zone. He grabs his artist’s palette and quickly begins painting an outline in which to add detail later. Each glass pane in the bay door area Zirk is using as his canvas is carefully taped off, to prevent paint from getting on the shiny red doors themselves.

Although this is Zirk’s first foray into this type of art, he has been painting on traditional canvas for a while.

“Art’s sort of been the thing that gives my life purpose or meaning,” he said. “I wanted to teach myself how to paint. I wanted to be a painter but I had to learn how to draw first. I taught myself how to draw. I wanted to start a portfolio to go to art school but it turned out I could teach myself pretty much anything I wanted to learn. The internet is a vast resource for things like that.

“I went to the library and got some books on art like ‘The Essential Oil Painting Course’ and I studied a lot of Van Gogh paintings. I went to a lot of art museums  such as the National Gallery of Art in D.C. and the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. I studied favorite artists and tried to recreate their paintings.”

While Zirk is an impressionistic style artist, he also finds himself drawn to other types as well.

“I think kids make the best artists,” he said. “I think kids are the best. I have two nephews and I’m always trying to encourage their creativity because I think art matters. It matters.”

And Zirk likes that people believe art matters in Buckhannon too.

“I like Buckhannon because it’s really an arts-driven community,” he said. “There’s a lot of art and a lot of opportunity for artists also.”

Preston hopes Zirk’s work will create more opportunity for him in the future.

A participant and a recovery coach at Opportunity House, Inc. Preston said a conversation there led him to a unique idea.

“We were talking one day about the guys getting employment and how that all that seems available are low-end jobs,” he said. “Now, we have two artists and the skill set is difficult to place.”

So, Preston, also a temporary career firefighter with the City of Buckhannon, thought outside of the box — literally — and looked at the blank canvas that is the six bays of the Buckhannon Fire Department.

Preston added, “I talked to chief [Jim] Townsend and he said, ‘I’m all for it. Make it happen, Scott.’”

This first art sequence has been privately funded with no city or county dollars being used.

Preston said the project could last all year to change with the various seasons and events coming up.

“It has been so well received by the fire department,” he said.

Another art project with Casey Earl Mills and the fire department is also in development and will be unveiled soon.

“It all fits in with our community embracing recovery,” he said. 

Buckhannon City Council passed a resolution at the March 16 council meeting about treating addiction as a whole.

The City of Buckhannon is developing a holistic plan to battle the community’s drug epidemic. Part of that holistic approach includes the launching of a HOPE initiative with employment being part of that.

Through these art projects, Preston hopes the Opportunity House, Inc. artists will have more on their resumes.

“I’m trying to get our painters meaningful work,” he said.

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