The large water tank at the City of Somerset Water Treatment Plant on South U.S. 27 is the site of the area's latest mural, created by artist Jordan Justice.

Talk about painting in water colors.

In a county that's become a lot more well-decorated in recent years, the newest mural may just be the biggest and most impressive yet.

Artist Jordan Justice has completed a mural at the large water tank at the City of Somerset Water Treatment Plant on South U.S. 27. It was commissioned by a partnership of SPEDA (Somerset-Pulaski Economic Development Authority), Lake Cumberland Tourism, and City of Somerset Tourism.

For Justice, it's a big accomplishment — and one that took a lot of time.

"It took like three weeks, but it was three hours after I got home from work, on the weekends," he said, noting that he had to work in fits and starts when he could and when the weather permitted.

Justice is becoming a familiar name in Pulaski County — or at least his work is becoming familiar. Justice painted the mural on the side of the Somerset-Pulaski County Chamber of Commerce building in 2019, and another last year for SPEDA in downtown Somerset on the building where Charred Oak Whiskey Grill and Be You Boutique are currently located.

"I feel blessed that (Somerset entities) keep asking me to do some of the larger ones," said Justice. "I feel like I've put a whole lot of work into showing my abilities to where I'm respected. I feel like people understand I'm going to try my hardest to make sure this is perfect."

Justice used a roller and paint brush to work on the water tank, but also had to to utilize a 65-foot telescopic boom to reach high and far enough on the 26-foot-tall structure.

"It's the biggest (mural) for sure that I've done," said Justice. 

The mural depicts a houseboat bearing the SPEDA and City of Somerset logos traveling the waters of Lake Cumberland. It's visible traveling the highway in both directions. 

It's just the first phase, however, of planned local water tower projects. Three lower tanks surrounding the now-painted one will also receive the mural treatment. There is no timeline for that project as of yet, but the other tank murals will feature art representing popular aspects of the community.

Local officials had been interested in a sort of "natural billboard" utilizing a water tank or tower after seeing examples in other communities. SPEDA used examples of large-scale projects like the "Florence, Y'all" water tower in northern Kentucky, or one in Lebanon proclaiming it the home of Maker's Mark bourbon — or, of course, in Lexington, the "Horse Capital of the World," as the mural says.

"We've made a concerted effort to promote the arts in any and all things that we do," said Chris Girdler, SPEDA President and CEO. "We really believe that arts and cultural enrichment is a major component of economic development, and the idea honestly came about replicating the water tower that we saw in Lexington ... up around the Kentucky Horse Park. I always thought that was so beautiful and eye-catching, and it identifies that community for what it is."

Girdler's idea was to promote Somerset as "the Capital of Lake Cumberland" via the mural, which fits neatly with the efforts of SPEDA and local tourism organizations. 

"Jordan Justice was the only person I know of who could handle a project of this magnitude," said Girdler. "When one gets down there and actually stands beside that water tank, you see how big it really is. He actually had a 25-foot boom that wasn't tall enough and he had to go back and get a 65-foot boom to lift him up to where he  could finish the top of the tank. To be able to take that image that he created with our counsel and wrap that around a tank that size is just incredible."

Justice said a city or business generally tells him what they're imagining for the mural, he'll draw something up, sit down with the clients and usually "do three rough drafts" of something before painting the completed project.

The project has been planned for some time, said Girdler; he noted on Wednesday that a crew was at the time working to remove some of the plant undergrowth around the tower, something they waited to do until the mural was completed. 

"The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet was wonderful to work with," said Girdler. "They gave us a permit to remove the undergrowth there along U.S. 27. Jailer (Anthony) McCollum and his staff and the inmates (helped); it represents a wonderful collaborative effort between SPEDA, between tourism, between the City of Somerset, and really between the Pulaski County Detention Center and the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet. All these people coming together to make this project happen exemplifies the collaborative effort we're trying to promote county-wide."

Girdler said that Justice's previous works in Somerset have become "signature locations for so many people," and feels the mural will help "promote the community and the region as a whole." He said the mural's identification of the community as the hub of Lake Cumberland — in terms of retail, health care, industrial, and so many other factors — shows that "we take pride in who we are as a people; we take pride in ownership of such a beautiful resource (like) Lake Cumberland."

He added, "The arts world is something that we at SPEDA will always embrace and always promote, because we really feel it's such a quality-of-life component. ... We have so many great, diverse, imaginative artists here. Who knows, maybe somebody might drive by there and it might inspired them to use their God-given talents."

Local tourism officials also had glowing words about the project. City of Somerset Tourism Director Leslie Ikerd said, “As we continue to promote and showcase all the many wonderful things Somerset and Pulaski County have to offer, this newest mural by Jordan Justice will be the icing on the cake."

Added Michelle Allen, executive director of Lake Cumberland Tourism, "To leverage a large space highlighting The Capital of Lake Cumberland is no different from Lexington using a similar space to showcase their horse country. But there is one exception: Not everyone has Lake Cumberland. We should take every opportunity to use spaces like these to share our pride for this unique natural wonder.”

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