KENTLAND – The Newton County Historical Society is preparing to dedicate the completed mural detailing the county’s history on December 3 with a ribbon cut.
After months of planning that began in October 2020, work on the actual mural began in June 2021. The mural was paid for and sponsored by the Newton County Historical Society, and it features elements from the ten townships of County of Newton, presenting their story to visitors and residents.
“Our intention with this mural was to make it for Newton County, about Newton County,” said Barbara Wilfong, member of the Newton County Historical Society. “It’s just something we had enough space to do, and we had a great story to tell.”
The artist, Rein Bontreger, is from Newton County, which operates his own design business in Rensselaer. With over 35 years of experience in airbrushing and hand lettering techniques, in addition to his own roots in the community, he was selected as the perfect fit for this project.
“He was known to several people in our group, and we chose to entrust the mural to a local person rather than to someone we did not know and who may have come from another state,” he said. Wilfong said. “We wanted to keep it as local as possible. “
Bontreger works without the help of other artists and he painted the Newton County mural on his own, using the airbrush to depict local historical subjects with detail and layers of color that bring the scenes to life.
Covering the east wall of the company building on East Seymour Street, the mural depicts key figures, landmarks and images from the start of Newton County’s re-foundation in 1859. A side portion of the mural, painted on the gate of the building, features the original Newton County boundaries, as they were drawn in the 19th century.
In order to choose which aspects of the county’s history would be included in the mural, the society interviewed their members and sorted the responses, determining which suggestions would be most important to the county members to represent.
“We wanted to focus on the townships in Newton County and make sure we had something that represented each township,” Wilfong said. “We have several [items] some and not as many others, but they are all included. We designed the mural so that you are facing the mural, left to right, south to north. We had to stray from some things, but we wanted to start at the south of the county and then move north.
Some key landmarks in the county’s local history are featured on the mural, including: Perfection Fairfax, the award-winning bull of former Indiana Governor Warren McCray; the Scott-Lucas House in Morocco, listed in the National Register of Historic Places; Hazelden in Brook, which is the residence of 19th century playwright George Ade; and the Newton impact, the event in which a meteor landed in what is now Kentland’s quarry.
A centerpiece of the mural is a huge butterfly, about five feet tall, with its bright orange wings outstretched. An accompanying label names it “Regal Fritillary,” a butterfly species considered to have vulnerable conservation status.
Threats to the insect’s habitats have resulted in dramatic declines in numbers since the 1960s, with only three locations east of Indiana having sightings; however, royals can now be found at Beaver Lake, Kankakee Valley Sands, and Willow Slough, due to land conservation efforts.
“It started out as a photoshoot, where you could stand with your arms outstretched and act like you were flying, like you were a butterfly,” Wilfong explained. “It’s the culmination of hours of work. “
The efforts that went into making this project go beyond the brush. The mural will be accompanied by a box of brochures with detailed stories of the scenes depicted, written by Newton County Historical Society historian Beth Bassett.
A box will be placed near the start of the mural and guests are encouraged to take the brochures with them to continue exploring the county after their visit is over. Additionally, a QR code has been painted on the mural, which guests can scan in order to view the brochure information on their phone.
The dedication ceremony for the mural will take place on Friday, December 3 at noon at the Newton County Historical Society Resource Center. Guests are welcome to attend and visit the center afterwards, with hearty refreshments being served inside the center.
“We are very proud to present this to Newton County and Kentland,” said Wilfong. “It took about six months, but we are here. “