Washington state artist's designs on bank branch walls say Derby

Working in temperatures topping 90 degrees last August, Mara Smith and two assistants stood high on the scaffolding mounted against a brick wall that rose several stories before them. Holding small tools, they put some finishing touches on this wall made up of some uncommon bricks.

“We're evening out the mortar here to flow with the bricks,” she explained as she worked.

The mortar, in this case, did not follow a straight line because these bricks, rather than having the normal rectangle shape, had curves and lacked uniformity.

But as Smith and her cohorts put them together, they gave rise to images speaking to Louisville's identity, especially during the time of year that marks the Kentucky Derby. On this 9-by-12-foot panel, a scene emerged replete with the Twin Spires, a horse sporting a garland of roses and, in the distance, a slew of horses racing around the track.

Next to it, they put finishing touches on another panel with massive balloons taking flight, as well as bluegrass musicians playing their guitar and fiddle, and a third panel depicting the river, a fisherman and the Louisville skyline ascending behind them.

Today, these scenes are clearly visible on the newest branch of River City Bank, which opened last month at Bardstown and Taylorsville roads. The three panels face Bardstown Road, while a panel of a paddle steamer gliding down a river hangs above the bank's door fronting Taylorsville Road.

The project began two years ago when Smith received a call from J.D. Tobin Jr., president of the Brandenburg Telephone Co. and a founder of the Meade County Bank in Brandenburg. Some 26 years ago, Smith installed an image of a sprawling oak tree there using brick. Tobin had become an admirer after seeing Smith's work at a Dallas hotel.

“I though it was interesting, unusual and artistic,” Tobin said.

He commissioned Smith to create a tree to show age and stability as characteristics he saw that reflected those of the bank. Even decades later, Tobin said he still likes to look at the image when he goes by the building.

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