The Mural Project
The purpose of the floodwall mural project is to create an outdoor art gallery depicting the last two centuries of the history of Portsmouth Ohio and the surrounding area. The section of floodwall included in the project is 20 feet high and extends for 2,090 feet along Front Street in the historic Boneyfiddle District of downtown Portsmouth. Painting began in 1993.
Robert Dafford of Lafayette, Louisiana, is the artist for the entire project. An internationally known muralist with more than 20 years’ experience, Robert has created more than 200 murals throughout the United States, Canada, and Europe. The highlight of much of his work is a three-dimensional illusion such that viewers feel they can “step into” the painting, and this effect is shown in many of the Portsmouth murals. The murals are proving to be a tremendous tourist attraction. Robert’s painting season in Portsmouth is from May through September.
The floodwall mural project is an ongoing endeavor of Portsmouth Murals Inc., a non-profit, all- volunteer organization. Financial support is derived from public and foundation grants, fund-raising events and most importantly, corporate and individual contributions.
Portsmouth Ohio’s roots began in the 1790’s when the small town of Alexandria was founded just west of where Portsmouth is today. Alexandria was flooded numerous times by the Ohio River and the Scioto River. In 1803, Henry Massie spotted a place to move the town away from the flood plains. He began to plot the new city by distributing the land and mapping the streets. Portsmouth was founded in 1803 and was established as a city in 1815. Alexandria soon disappeared. Portsmouth quickly grew around an industrial base with the completion of the Ohio and Erie Canal, and the construction of the N&W railyards and the B&O junction. This greatly benefited Boneyfiddle (which is a west-end neighborhood in Portsmouth), where grand buildings were constructed with the wealth from the commerce. As time passed, much of the commerce began to move towards Chillicothe Street, which is still today the main thoroughfare of Portsmouth. While Boneyfiddle is receiving new life, it is a shadow of its former self. Another notable part of Portsmouth’s history in the 19th century was its importance on the Underground Railroad. It was located on a route that continued north to Detroit and into Canada.
Even though the city was on higher ground, it was still prone to flooding. The city had great deal of flooding in 1884, 1913, and 1937. After the flood of 1937, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers constructed a floodwall protecting the city, which prevented two major floods in 1964 and 1997. In 1992, the city of Portsmouth began honoring some of the many accomplishments of its area natives by placing a star on the riverside of the floodwall, known as the Portsmouth Wall of Fame and instituted by then mayor Frank Gerlach. Some of the honorees include Roy Rogers (King of the Cowboys), Don Gullett, and Al Oliver.
In 1992 a nonprofit group headed by Dr. Louis R. Chaboudy was formed to investigate a mural based tourist attraction on the floodwall. In the spring of 1993, mural artist Robert Dafford was commissioned and began painting murals of Portsmouth’s history. He hired local art student Herb Roe as an assistant. Roe subsequently apprenticed to and worked for Dafford for 15 years. The project eventually spanned sixty 20 feet (6.1 m) tall consecutive Portsmouth murals, stretching for over 2,000 feet (610 m). Subjects covered by the murals span the history of the area from the ancient mound building Adena and Hopewell cultures to modern sporting events and notable natives.
For a completely immersive audio and visual tour of the Portsmouth Floodwall Murals download the Portsmouth Murals App, which can be found on the App Store and Google Play. This Portsmouth Floodwall Murals Tour is a one-of-a-kind experience. Here, visitors to the murals in historic downtown Portsmouth, Ohio will discover a multi-media guide that includes an audio tour and written content which provide historical background and artistic commentary for each mural panel, rich and detailed digital images of the murals, historic photographs and contextual imagery, embedded web links to relevant resources, and a map function which allows visitors to explore beyond the murals into our beautiful community. Whether you are a first-time visitor to the area or a lifelong resident, we hope this application will improve your understanding and enjoyment of our city’s most dynamic cultural and historical landmark. This is the Portsmouth Floodwall Murals! We hope you enjoy.
429 Front St, Portsmouth, OH 45662
About the Artist Robert Dafford
Robert Dafford is a native of Lafayette Louisiana. He is 58 years old. He has been designing and painting outdoor works professionally since 1970. He is one the most prolific and successful muralists in America, with over 350 large scale public works completed throughout the U.S. and also in France, Belgium, England, and Canada. He was awarded the Bronze Medaille d’Honneur de la Suresnes in Suresenes (Paris) France for his work, “Horizon”, a mural series of flying violins in several countries simultaneously. They represent music and art breaking through barriers of language, politics, etc. and connecting the peoples of our cities. He was awarded a silver medal by the city of Nantes, France for his mural “Departure des Acadians pour Nouvelle Orleans 1768″, a 14′ x 40′ painting twinned with the 12′ x 30′ “Arrival of the Acadians” at the memorial Monument des Acadians in St. Martinville Louisiana. Over a span of almost thirty years Dafford has painted twenty large scale canvasses depicting the Expulsion of the Acadians from Acadie (now Nova Scotia) in 1765, and the various places Acadians were scattered in the world, leading to their settlement in Louisiana, where they are now known as the Cajuns. Reproductions of these paintings have been used in numerous textbooks, articles, books, and in film and video productions by such groups as BBC, CBC, PBS, History Channel and others He has received numerous awards and recognitions for these and other mural works. He has been featured or mentioned in Smithsonian, National Geographic, and Southern Living magazines; NY Times, Seattle Times, LA Times, Ottawa Sun, Le Droit, and countless other newspaper, television, and on-line programs and articles. Dafford says that the research and development of the genesis of this body of work in the seventies is what made him an historical painter. His work in the Chemainus Mural Festival on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, led him to the concept of a comprehensively organized program of local history murals as tourism attractions. Since 1988 he has worked extensively in the Ohio River valley, mostly in smaller cities revitalizing their old downtowns, with several interconnected goals in mind – historic preservation, education, and economic development. For his success in achieving these goals, Shawnee State University in Portsmouth, Ohio, bestowed upon him a Doctorate of Humane Letters in Oct, 2003.He has received numerous awards in areas of tourism, political, artistic and civic achievements from federal, state, and city organizations. His 15 year project in Portsmouth Ohio is now over 60 murals, over 2,000 feet long, covering over 42,000 square feet. His project in Paducah Kentucky now numbers near 50 murals. He has other ongoing historic district mural projects in Vicksburg, Miss., Maysville, Ky, Jeffersonville, Ind., Point Pleasant, W. Virginia, Lafayette, La., as well as individual projects in New Orleans, La and at least twenty other cities. He and his unique crew of artists cover more square footage than the Sistine Chapel every couple of years. He has been working on the Covington, Kentucky riverfront, (at Cinncinatti Ohio) for seven summers, completing 18 murals of this project. He has worked with local artists in these cities with an interest in developing young talent. Some of these younger artists becoming lifelong members of his extended artist family At the time of this writing he has over has over two years of mural projects booked with two to three more years of work awaiting his agreement.