By Mitch Meador, Fort Sill TribuneSeptember 6, 2018
FORT SILL, Oklahoma (Sep. 6, 2018) -- An Oklahoma City couple spent the three days prior to the Labor Day weekend painting their newest mural for the Army Field Artillery Museum here.
Liz Mercer and Erik Sunderman are a husband-and-wife team doing business as Artists at Large. This is their fourth mural for Fort Sill. Museum Director Gordon Blaker said they've done all of the Field Artillery Museum's murals.
This one is the largest at 52 feet wide by 12 feet high. They painted it directly onto the slightly textured south wall of the new central gallery that is slowly filling with late 20th-century artillery pieces. It will serve as the backdrop for a Vietnam War display. Blaker described it as a selection of different Vietnam scenes, with two Huey helicopters flying on the left side and two Cobra helicopters on the right.
When the display is finished, an M102 105-mm towed howitzer will be in a firing point in front of the left side. An M107 175-mm self-propelled gun will be "moving" off to the right.
Mercer said she was born on Fort Sill in 1982. That was in the old Reynolds Army Community Hospital in Building 4700 on Mow-Way Road. Her parents, Jennifer Wong and James Mercer, were both in the military and stationed here at the time. The Army of that era had regulations with married Soldiers who might have to leave their children behind should they both deploy. So her parents were given a choice: One or the other had to leave the service to care for the children.
Her mother decided she would be the one to go, so she could care for her daughter. She got a job with the U.S. Postal Service. Mercer's father deployed in support of Operation Desert Storm.
Sunderman said that as artists, they are pretty much self-taught. From eighth grade through his senior year of high school, he attended the Classen School of Advanced Studies in Oklahoma City, and it had really good art programs. Mercer said she tried to go there, but lived too far away.
Art brought them together as the couple met at a "paint party" where a whole group of people had laid out a giant canvas on the fence and invited a bunch of people over to paint on it.
Mercer was working at a salon and one of her clients said, "You need to get out more in your life." Her response was, "Well, I don't know what I would want to do." And he said, "Well, you like art. My friend's throwing this party."
"So I just went on a whim, and he was there, and it started right away," she said.
The couple clicked, and they've been together ever since. That was 14 years ago. During their early years as a team, they apprenticed under another Oklahoma City couple who painted murals. That was Randy and Tara Feuerborn, who did business as Artistic License Design Group.
When Rod Roadruck needed a mural for the foyer of the Field Artillery Museum, he called on his old college classmate, Randy Feuerborn. Thus began their association with the museum. After the apprenticeship had lasted three or four years, the Feuerborns decided to retire and hand over all their business to Mercer and Sunderman.
Now they have steady work painting murals all over the state, in Oklahoma City's Paseo District, in schools all over its metroplex, and even one that made the Oklahoma Centennial book. They did that one for The Sweet Pea restaurant in Guthrie.
Each has certain things they're good at, so they divide the labor accordingly. Sunderman paints clouds, Mercer paints foliage and landscaping.
"But we can pretty much paint the same. He's taught me a lot, so our hands in painting are very similar. We could almost paint along next to each other. But for something so large, we do kind of assign jobs to each other," Mercer said.
They use acrylics because they are nontoxic and dry quickly. Another plus is that they're not subject to fading.
This job went smoothly. Because there's still so much open space in the gallery, they drove their Jeep right into it and unload their art supplies right on the spot, without carrying them all the way from the parking lot. They used paints left over from previous jobs. There were straight columns along the wall they were to paint, but Blaker had them bubbled in advance so they wouldn't create harsh shadows.
"These guys are so kind to us, and we really appreciate that. Rod helps us out. He's helped us out in a few of the murals that we did," Mercer said.