In Chester, just inside the doors of the unfinished American Family Fitness, lies a vibrant, four-walled mural and a mythical world created for gym visitors. Painted by professional muralist and Richmond resident Julie Lancaster, 53, with the help of her son, Patrick Welch, 25, the mural will be completed Tuesday, Feb. 15, when the gym officially opens for the community to see for themselves.
“Kids are going to love this because it’s very lively,” Lancaster said of her mural, which illustrates culturally-diverse, youthful fairies and finely-detailed, majestic landscapes. “I try to make sure that the children will come back to the Kid Zone because it is a fun room … a happy room.”
The mural, spanning throughout the large, mostly white kids’ room, is nearly 60 feet in height and at least 60 feet in length. For adults, experiencing the room for the first time creates the feeling of living in a place with supersized surroundings, said the veteran artist trying to perceive the world through the eyes of a knee-high child.
For Lancaster, calling from her own imagination has played a crucial role in the creative production of this particular artwork, to the extent that dreaming it in her sleep helped capture the unique world existing in the minds of children. She feels the mural was something kids would grow with and remember for the rest of their lives, with the additional benefit that it would help make the gym experience more pleasant and convenient for the parents.
“…To me, mom and dad drop them off and a lot of the time they don’t want to be dropped off,” said the artist. “But if they walk in and they see the room, they go ‘Wow! This is the fun room’ and that encourages the kids to come while their parents work out. That’s really important.”
Since she has painted several murals at other American Family Fitness locations in the past, ― including Woolridge, the West end and Fredericksburg ― Lancaster has witnessed firsthand what her art does for members. And, although she measures her success, she says, by the reception of the children once they see her murals, her work is no secret and is highly praised by people within the corporation.
“We’re very excited to have Julie doing the murals for us,” said Lisa Walton, general manager for the gym’s Chester location. “… And when the kids come in, I think they will be very excited.”
Lancaster agrees that the gym’s requests for her murals may indicate the need for art in the corporate world and, even more importantly, in the minds of growing children. Each time she sets out to complete a mural, in the back of her mind is the fact that what she creates brings joy to children and remains part of them for a lifetime.
“To see the joy in these kids’ faces, that’s what it’s all about,” said Lancaster. “To know that you are making kids happy is a really cool feeling. It really is.”