New tunnel doors provide look into past

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 18, 2003

The new doors for the Ironton tunnel will actually provide the community with a window into the past.

Painted in vibrant oils on four 4-foot by 8-foot sheets of plywood, the scene depicts two vehicles entering the tunnel when it was State Route 75.

The inscription of 1915 commemorates the date when the tunnel was partially renovated.

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Artist Reta Skaggs put a lot of time and effort into even the smallest detail such as the authentic lighting above the entrance and the license plates on the vehicles. One plate reads Rt. 75 and the other contains the letters RS 2002 as a signature of sorts.

The Ironton Lion's Club commissioned Skaggs to paint the mural for the tunnel, located at the intersection of U.S. 52 and State Route 93,

because it would add some history to the site, Lion's Club member Ray Howard said.

The doors will be installed on the Coryville side of the tunnel in the next week or two.

Skaggs, who grew up in Chesapeake and now resides in Ironton, began the project last July and finished it in September after spending three or four hours a day five to six days a week in Howard's barn getting her creative energies flowing and doing what she loves.

"I have always sketched all of my life," she said. "I took an oil class from a local artist in 1983. Once I found out what you can do with a brush, I was hooked."

Despite teaching an oil painting class at Ohio University Southern and

years of experience painting portraits, still-lifes and scenery, Skaggs said she had never worked on such a large scale and was a bit intimidated at first.

"When Ray called and asked if I could do it, I told him 'I really do not know, but I will try,'" she said. "Once I got started it just came together."

She used an old photograph of the tunnel to paint the majority of the picture free hand. To help maintain the proper scale of the vehicles, she tried something she had never done before and projected images of the trucks onto her wooden canvas.

"I spent a lot of time out there watching her," Howard said. "It is amazing how one stroke of a brush can really change the looks."

For Skaggs, being asked to do the project was a huge honor in itself and completing the project was an emotional experience.

"It is beyond anything I could explain, " she said. "When you do a painting you still step back and say, 'did I really do that with these little hands.'"

Howard said he knows she will be a nervous wreck and advised her to stay at home the day it is installed. Skaggs agreed that she is anxious now that it is about to be unveiled to the public.

"I hope the public appreciates it because they can see what the tunnel used be like because it is now gone forever. It is a part of Ironton's history," she said. "We see pictures of cars and trucks all the time,

but people can just about step back in time."

The doors would have probably been put up sooner but it took six months to find the right type of varnish to protect it from vandals. Skaggs contacted Rustoleum Technology Laboratories of Oakland, Calif., who were so excited about the concept that they donated two gallons of the expensive coating.

"The varnish is important so if people spray paint or vandalize it we can wash it off without damaging the painting," Howard said. "We hope the public will take pride in it and report any vandals so it will not be necessary."