Bringing Color to Flathead Lake’s West Shore

The West Short Art Initiative and KALICO Art Center are collaborating to organize a community art project to bring a mosaic mural to Lakeside

By Maggie Dresser
Michell Wang of KALICO Art Center in Kalispell holds up one of the completed tiles for the Lakeside/Somers Mosaic Mural Project on Dec. 22, 2020. Each 6 by 6 inch tile will be assembled to create an 13 by 8 foot mural of a cutthroat trout, as seen on the printout behind her hand. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

In 2016, Lakeside resident Dan Benesch visited a small tourist-driven town called Sheffield while he was on vacation in Tasmania with his wife and noticed most buildings in town were covered with colorful murals.

“You walk into town and everywhere you look there were murals and this had improved the quality of life in the town and they gave the town a sense of pride and accomplishment,” Benesch said.

Drawing inspiration from his trip, Benesch wanted to bring the same mural concept to the Lakeside and Somers areas back home. After proposing the idea to the community, they decided to use a similar mural concept, but not quite as flashy as the tourist town in Tasmania.

Instead, Benesch organized a project with the official organization he later formed, the West Shore Art Initiative, where local artists created murals on four-by-eight foot panels that are installed every spring and taken down every fall. The panels protect the art from the elements and are limited to certain locations, including the post offices in Lakeside and Somers and the Lakeside Elementary School.

In 2017, the project started with three murals, which included sceneries of a barn, children playing in the water and the moon rising over Flathead Lake. The following year Benesch had 15 murals that he cycled out throughout the area with help from former Bigfork resident Jamie Dooling, who helped facilitate the artists.

For Lakeside’s latest mural, Benesch teamed up with KALICO Art Center to create a mosaic, which he hopes to install at Lakeside Elementary School in the next few years. Now a community art project, locals can paint their own tiles to eventually piece together a mosaic mural of a cutthroat trout. Originally painted by Travis J. Sylvester, the West Shore Art Initiative and KALICO were granted permission to use the painting.

Since the project started this fall, locals have been painting their own six-by-six inch squares for the mosaic, which will later be combined to form the entire mural. Artists can paint at KALICO Art Center, or Benesch has provided take-home kits filled with paint and supplies for people to do at home. While the original painting is displayed in the art center as a reference point, artists are encouraged to get creative with their tiles.

“It can be somewhat your own interpretation,” KALICO Program Director Jemina Watstein said. “We’re not asking people to mirror what they see but a rough estimate.”

Benesch chose the cutthroat trout painting after carefully researching mosaic murals. He searched for a picture with texture and variety that would translate well with multiple different tile paintings.

“We found this particular painting and thought it would fit the bill admirably,” Benesch said.

While Benesch expected the mural would take two to three years to complete, Watstein says KALICO has received a lot of interest and positive feedback from the community, and she thinks it could be done sooner.

“KALICO is doing an amazing job and they’re way ahead of the curb,” Benesch said. “I just provide the vision statement and make sure resources are available and they run with it.

Since Benesch doesn’t use a funding organization or utilize grants, he doesn’t have set deadlines and says nothing is written in stone. With personal funding between himself and other community members and discounts from Sliters Lumber and Building Supply in Lakeside, everyone involved makes sure there are enough resources to pay for the panels and paint.

“It’s just locals doing their thing and creating a work of art,” Benesch said.

For more information, visit and to see more work by the original artist.

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