Downtown Oak Park has become just a little more golden with the completion of a new Betty White mural. Located on North Boulevard right by Firecakes Donuts, the railroad embankment panel of public art is a glowing tribute both to White and to Oak Park, where the star was, quite literally, born.
Titled “Stay Golden,” the mural features White’s familiar visage, haloed by citrus-hued beams. With the sponsorship of the Oak Park Area Arts Council (OPAAC), the piece was designed and painted by artist Sara Jean Stevens.
“[White] was a ray of sunshine and I think this mural really embodies that glow, that aura, that spark she had,” said Stevens, who makes art under the moniker Moth and Moon Co.
The mural is a part of OPAAC’S mini-mural public art initiative, a program that allows artists to submit designs for a chance to paint them along the Union Pacific/CTA train embankment.
It is one of this program year’s 26 new murals [see sidebar] but the only one to commemorate White, who died on New Year’s Eve just days before her centennial birthday.
The mini-mural program gives artists free creative rein over their designs, so long as the art does not advertise anything and is appropriate for the public. The competition is open to artists all over the country.
“They bring their own wonderful art to this village that only goes to enhance our community,” said OPAAC Executive Director Camille Wilson White.
A panel comprising council staff and members of the local arts community judge the submitted designs. Those earning the panel’s approval are then painted by the respective artists, who are awarded a $500 stipend for materials and another $500 upon project completion.
This year, the council issued a prompt to any artist who wished to take it: Design a mural that reflects White.
“My design instantly popped into my head,” said Stevens, whose work can also be found at FitzGerald’s in Berwyn.
Like many others, Wilson White is a fan of the late great comedic actress.
“I have enjoyed watching her shows over the years, even when she was Sue Ann Nivens on The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” Wilson White said.
The council only called for one commemorative mural for White this program year, however, and the submissions were narrowed down to Stevens’ and one other artist, according Wilson White.
Village President Vicki Scaman was asked to make the final decision. Scaman was given only the designs; the identities of the artists were unknown to her. She said both finalists were great, but Stevens’ design edged out the competition for its simplicity and its color scheme.
“It looks happy,” Scaman said of the design.
This is not the first commemorative mural OPAAC has sponsored. The council hosted a similar contest in 2019 to paint a mural tribute to the late Val Camilletti, founder of the beloved Oak Park shop Val’s halla Records. That piece is located along South Boulevard, not far from the shop’s longtime storefront.
The idea to do a mini-mural for the TV star came to OPAAC during Oak Park’s celebration of life and birthday festivities for White last winter, according to Wilson White. OPAAC even participated in Wednesday Journal’s special pull-out section in January.
Eight months later, the mural is ready to be enjoyed. Stevens finished the project last Friday, using paint from JC Licht Benjamin Moore Paint & Decor Store, 7051 W. North Ave. The artist praised the store’s staff for their helpfulness and graciousness.
Village President Scaman said she believes Stevens’ piece captured the friendly personality of the golden girl, whom she called a trailblazer, ahead of her time. Stevens hopes everyone will view the mural similarly.
“I hope it just makes everybody happy when they see it,” the artist said
This year’s muralists
The following artists were chosen by the Oak Park Area Arts Council to paint this year’s batch of train embankment murals along North and South boulevards:
Sara Jean Stevens