A little over a decade ago, community leaders in Buffalo decided downtown needed a little color.
So, the city offered artists opportunities to create large format murals on buildings facing Clear Creek, which runs through the middle of the northern Wyoming town’s downtown area.
That decision sparked the creation of not one, but four murals in the years since.
Aaron Wuerker, one of the artists who created the first two pieces in 2012 and 2013, said the murals not only bring color to Buffalo’s downtown, they entice visitors passing through to stop and stay awhile.
“I think that the main driving force behind the grant money that the town had for fixing up the square there was making the downtown area of interest to tourists that are otherwise trying to just get in and out of town,” he said.
When the city first proposed creating the larger-than-life works, it was part of a larger downtown enhancement project to give purpose to what locals call Crazy Woman Square, an open block downtown that has been empty since 1988, when an arsonist set fire to the Ben Franklin store that once stood on the spot.
“There was a big city project going on for two years there with the downtown square being renovated, and the bandshell building being built and these murals being part of that downtown improvement project,” said Wuerker.
Wuerker, his wife Jenny and friend Marchel Kelly submitted their bid for the mural project, a cost of $48,500. The three won the right to decorate the downtown space, albeit within parameters that the committee appointed to oversee the project had set.
“They said that they wanted one mural to have the theme in the lettering somewhere in it that would say ‘Buffalo – More Than A One-Horse Town,’” said Wuerker. “And then they wanted the other mural to say ‘Buffalo – A Creek Runs Through It.’”
In 2012, the trio spent three months painting the one-horse town mural on the south side of Clear Creek, although Wuerker said most of the design work was done by Marchel Kelly, a sign painter in Buffalo.
“She's got horses, and so she was really inspired to work out something for that horse mural,” he said.
The next year, Kelly and the Wuerkers together designed the creek-runs-through-it mural and spent two months painting images on the taller building on the north side of the creek.
“It just seemed like if the theme is ‘a creek runs through it,’ we’ve got to have a kind of narrative of the things that water and watershed ecology brings to the town,” said Wuerker. “So, there's the fishing, and there's the wildlife, and there's the agricultural stuff with the cows, and then up above there's a guy working on an irrigation ditch.”
The stairway leading to a second story on the side of the building adds complexity to the design, said Wuerker, as does the building’s height.
“It’s just a very tall building, so we had to use lifts and scaffolding and things like that,” he said.
4th On Main
But the two city-commissioned works aren’t the only large-format paintings emblazoned on buildings in downtown Buffalo.
In 2019, a large mural was painted on the north facing wall of the restaurant 4th on Main, directly across Clear Creek from the Busy Bee Restaurant, which was made famous as a favorite restaurant of fictional Absaroka County Sheriff Walt Longmire in Craig Johnson’s popular book series and TV show.
According to Big Horn Mountain Radio, the painting was commissioned by Mark Riddle, owner of the steakhouse, as part of his plan to renovate the former Clear Creek Cantina.
Then in 2022, Buffalo was selected to be featured on the HGTV show “Home Town Kickstart,” in which a personal home, a business and a public space in selected small towns are remodeled.
HGTV hosts Jasmine Roth and Ty Pennington spent time in Buffalo renovating the town’s movie theater, the home of a local hero, and the north-facing exterior wall of City Hall.
The mural outside City Hall was unveiled during the filming of the show in December 2021. The concept was created by HGTV, but the painting was done by local artist Jason Jesperson and was completed at no cost to the city.
Wuerker said he believes the murals entice visitors to stay just a little longer in downtown Buffalo, adding to the economy of this small town at the base of the Big Horn Mountains.
“They feel that need to stop, they get out and look at (the murals), and now the kids need ice cream — and then you start shopping,” he said. “It's that kind of tourist draw, to get the tourists to stick around a little longer.”