Painted: October 2023
About the Mural: Artist James K. Schmidt created the “Alton Flyway” mural for the east wall of the Mississippi Landing building in Alton, Illinois, in 2009, a concept muralist Robert Fishbone brought to life in 2023. The mural is the result of a community collaboration—including Alton Main Street and the Audubon Center at Riverlands, located in the Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary across the Mississippi River from Alton—to bring attention to the area’s natural beauty and biodiversity while contributing to a renaissance of the once-bustling industrial center’s downtown. A quintessential river town, Alton is nestled along the limestone bluffs high above the Mississippi River, offering impressive views of the river and mostly undeveloped floodplain beyond. The mural represents the promise of a healthy community for birds and people at the heart of the Mississippi Flyway.
About the Birds: “Alton Flyway” features the plethora of birds that grace the skies above the city of Alton, including terns, gulls, and raptors that travel the Mississippi Flyway in search of food, shelter, and safe passage. Forty percent of the nation's migratory waterfowl use the river corridor during their spring and fall migrations, as do sixty percent of all North American birds. Climate change has brought pronounced changes to the eons-old migratory pathway, including longer lasting floods and intense droughts that are threatening essential habitat that myriad birds need to complete their annual life cycles. Audubon’s Survival By Degrees report identified 64 species in the Mississippi Flyway that are highly vulnerable to extinction this century if global warming continue apace; climate models show that keeping warming to 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit gives many of these species a better shot at survival.
About the Artists: James K. Schmidt was chairman of the Studio Art Department at Principia College in Elsah, Illinois, just 10 miles north of Alton. Throughout his career he drew inspiration from nature and local beauty, distilling the landscape to essential line, grace, and form. “The theme of birds in flight for me relates to the space and freedom of the river—qualities we value so much,” he wrote of his concept for the Alton Flyway mural. Since forming On the Wall Productions with Sarah Linquist in 1974, mural artist Robert Fishbone has made it the company's mission to transform anonymous walls into inspiring, meaningful, and memorable artworks—an effort he now continues in a new chapter of mural making with his daughter Liza Fishbone (and occasionally her brother, Tyler). As public artists, they believe in designing and painting murals that are relevant to a community, so the community feels it can take ownership of the artwork after they leave.