by Heidi L. Everett
Melted cheese oozes over crisp crust and down the wall at Sliced on College Avenue in St. Joseph from a new mural painted by local artists in February.
When Austin Saatzer, who grew up in St. Joseph, moved on from his job at Sliced, he never knew he’d be back to serve up pizza in epic proportions.
But when Sliced owner Mary Kuebelbeck offered Saatzer the opportunity for an art commission, he gladly accepted the order.
“I thought of Austin because he is very talented, a great communicator and it was a great opportunity for him to get paid to do what he loves to do,” Kuebelbeck said. “We wanted him to spice up our environment at Sliced, and he did a great job.”
The first step was agreeing on what to paint.
“They gave me all the power to paint whatever,” Saatzer said. “I gave them concept ideas, and they liked the slices.”
For Kuebelbeck, that part of the process was fun.
“When you put a bunch of creative people together there are no bad ideas. I think we even had pizzas in space at one point,” she said. “We wanted to stay true to why Sliced exists and that of course is the best pizza by the slice in the area.”
In addition to the commission, Saatzer had an emerging artist to help, Grace Kuebelbeck, Mary’s daughter who is a high school freshman.
Grace has sold a few art pieces to friends and family and has “chalked up the sidewalks” in the area, she said. She also painted a koi fish pond on her favorite English teacher’s wall at Kennedy Community School, she said.
Saatzer recognized a bit of a learning curve on his part with the mural.
“It was my first big project. I’ve never worked on anything larger than a small canvas, so the techniques were different,” Saatzer said.
He enlisted the help of another local artist with experience painting on a large scale: Adam Spaeth.
Saatzer met Spaeth about three years prior.
“I saw an article in the paper about him doing community paintings to bring the community together,” he said. “Then out of the blue, I ran into him on the sidewalk when he was working on a painting.”
The two kept running into each other, so when the Sliced mural presented itself, Saatzer called Spaeth who taught him how to layer paint and work on a large canvas.
“I sketched the design out on pieces of paper and then projected it on the wall,” Saatzer said. Because of the size, a great deal of freehand drawing was still needed.
The three completed the mural in three days, Feb. 22- 24.
“We went from a white outline to realistic popping pieces of za,” Grace said.
“We all believe that there should be more murals like this in St. Joseph and surrounding towns,” Saatzer said.
Saatzer remembers doodling endlessly in notebooks when he was in school. During an art class his junior year at Apollo High School, his teacher encouraged him to join AP art. He’s been hooked on art ever since.
“I would love to paint a huge wall with other artists,” he said. “I’ve wanted to do that since I was young.”