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Human of the Hilltop: Heather Brammeier recognized for Peoria mural work

Brammeier was recognized in November for her key contributions to the “Hello Peoria” mural. Photo via Heather Brammeier.

On Nov. 6, the Big Picture Peoria organization held a public dedication for a mural in downtown Peoria on Adams Street with the vibrant words “Hello Peoria.”

The mural was a point of cultural intersection for Peorians, from owners of small businesses to city leaders — as well as Bradley students, led by painting professor Heather Brammeier.

According to Brammeier, the building sporting the “Hello Peoria” mural was abandoned but still owned by the City of Peoria. The Big Picture Initiative (BPI), which she is a part of, had already begun painting the building several years ago, with the “Hello Peoria” design — made by a Bradley graduate — painted by local artists.

Brammeier entered the picture afterwards, as the building’s wall size created potential for creativity as well as experience for her students.

“It just had the potential of being something so much more than it already was,” Brammeier said.

With the City of Peoria’s approval, expansion on the painting began in fall 2019. After a semester’s work, Brammeier saw success in her students’ productivity that she continued the project in the spring and summer of 2020 with returning students and new additions.

A central aspect of the process were COVID-19 protocols, which required each student to paint while socially distanced, with the spaces in between later filled in with more paintings.

Brammeier cited positive feedback for the mural, stating that many attendees of the mural’s dedication discussed how it brought vibrancy to the industrialized area. She also touched on personal hopes for further influence the mural could have, including its nearby CityLink-donated benches creating a visiting spot for homeless people in the area, and the building used for the mural now being leased.

“When people make artwork in a location, it just automatically suggests that it’s a vital, vibrant, important part of a neighborhood, and so people start to take an interest,” Brammeier said.

Savannah Harwood, senior graphic design major, was one of the students that worked on both the “Hello Peoria” mural and several other murals with Big Picture Peoria. She met Brammeier in spring 2021 as a student in her Beginner’s Painting course.

She stated that Brammeier was often present at the site helping to create a welcoming work environment, whether by picking up trash, making more canvas space or building group relations among students.

“If there were ever other students working, she made sure to make sure we either knew each other or introduced us so that we were able to know who we were working with and build more of that sense of community working side by side,” Harwood said.

Harwood looks back on her time painting the mural fondly, and stated that she plans on continuing to learn art under Brammeier by taking a color theory class this coming spring.

“I was lucky enough to be a part of the mural and I remember thinking how lucky I was that I had a professor that was willing to think outside the box for ways to engage with us as students during the midsts of the pandemic,” Harwood said. “I am extremely grateful that Heather was so willing to put her trust in us as students and artists and know that we were capable of filling that space with captivating and engaging art.”

Brammeier stated that she is continuing her work in public art through her involvement in different projects. She said that there is a mural currently being painted downtown on the building of the not-for-profit organization Phoenix Community Development Services.

“BPI is an organization that uses the arts to help people … to make Peoria a vital center to the arts and … make it a place where people already in the community can enjoy art but also to draw people from around the community,” Brammeier said. “I’m involved in different public art projects because of my association with Big Picture, but I think it will also lead to more mural projects as well.”

Brammeier’s artwork covers numerous mediums, and she credited her mother as an influence for her versatility. Pictured: the “Easterseals Rainbow.” Photo via Heather Brammeier.

Brammeier credits her mother for passing down her lifelong passion for art, as she encouraged her to create across various mediums and always had craft materials around.

 She continued her pursuit of the subject through academics, graduating from Bradley in 2000 with a BFA in art, and it was through the process of learning here on the Hilltop that the potential of her craft began to dawn on her.

“I never really thought that I would actually become a professional artist,” Brammeier said. “I started taking some drawing classes and I realized that I did have a lot of ability and that I wanted to spend more time on it, so I declared an art major.”

Oscar Gillespie, Bradley professor of drawing and printmaking, had Brammeier as a student during this time. In 2016, he wrote a letter nominating Brammeier for the Faculty Achievement Award for Excellence in Scholarship, citing the quality of her art, her adaptability and creativity in using a variety of spaces and materials (including wooden chairs, lamps and PEX tubing) and her passion for the use of art in science and the representation of women in his reasoning.

“Her five-year professional trajectory would easily match a ten-year record for most studio faculty across the nation,” Gillespie wrote in his letter.

A more recent colleague of Brammeier is Heather Ford, lead instructor of the user experience design program. Ford stated that although she has only known Brammeier since 2017, she regards her highly.

“Her determination, drive, and skill are admirable for any artist, student and faculty member,” Ford said. “Heather’s dedication to the community, her students, and the arts is impeccable. Heather always finds amazing opportunities to help those in need through the arts and supports artists and wants them to succeed.”

While she mainly teaches painting here at Bradley and studied the medium in graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania, Brammeier has spent the better part of the past decade specializing in sculptures and installation work, with personal places serving as inspiration for every last detail in what she referred to as a “hidden personal narrative.” She specifically touched on her art’s use of willow trees and wood floors as tributes to her mother.

“[My mom] always enjoyed the beauty of these curly willow trees … and it has a lot of meaning for me now that my mom is gone, and it’s a way that she lives on,” Brammeier said. “I’ve made a lot of art installations using wood flooring, and that also has an association with my mother and the home that she made for us and the way she ripped up carpets and redid the floors.”

Brammeier cited a recent solo exhibition at Chicago’s Hyde Park Art Center as an achievement in her career, both for the venue and the new dimension added to her art.

“The curator [Gervais Marsh] invited a performance artist [Izah Ransohoff] to interact with my artwork and do a performance in the artwork itself,” Brammeier said. “What was amazing to me was that the artist … [was] interacting with my piece, and in doing so they really … showed the viewer different aspects of the work that they might not have noticed on their own. […] It was just so exciting to see another artist who truly recognized the meaning in the spaces that I had built.”

This focus on showing new perspectives is Brammeier’s key takeaway regarding the value of art.

“Knowing about different ways of looking at things can teach you about other people in the world, so just like different genres of music or different musical artists, they represent one part of our culture,” Brammeier said.

From that, she further outlined a vision she hoped people could share with her art in specific regard to her installation work, with a central focus on space.

“It’s important for me that my installation work challenges people to think about space and light in a different way,” Brammeier said. “Space and light is really important to the structures and places I create […] so in noticing cast shadows and shapes of light, people start to think about space itself in a different way. I hope that it … adds a bit of discovery to everyday experience, but it also can provide metaphor for our inner experience.”

To learn more about Brammeier, visit her website here.

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