If you’ve seen any of the many brightly painted murals on the sides of buildings in the Wabash Valley, chances are the public art was created by Becky Hochhalter. This local artist has 54 public works of art in 11 cities in Indiana and Illinois and has several murals in the works for 2022 and beyond. But for Hochhalter, his work goes beyond community beautification.
“Whether it’s a mural or a portrait, I try to tell a community story in some way, and I do that by illustrating,” Hochhalter said. “I want to make an impact and leave a mark, and I do that by helping to beautify a community.”
Hochhalter can’t remember a time when she wasn’t creating.
Born and raised in Terre Haute, she has been making art since childhood and turned to pastel drawings in middle school and high school. She is a self-taught artist and never went to school to study art. But she had many artistic influences on her life, including her grandmother and her uncle. His father was skilled in woodcarving and did creative work in architecture and carpentry. Hochhalter’s mother was also crafty with jewelry, sewing, knitting, crocheting and embroidery.
Although she always felt creative, Hochhalter did not plan on a career in public art painting. Instead, she spent almost 30 years as a graphic designer. She worked for a local ad agency where she learned computer graphics on a Macintosh computer. She also worked for a clip art agency in Peoria, Illinois, and spent 17 years at Bemis doing graphic work.
Hochhalter spent most of those years working full time and raising her children, leaving little time for the fine arts. That changed when Morgan Stanley asked him to paint a horse as part of the Swope Museum’s Public Art Horse Project. She then began to receive more commissions for paintings and portraits that she had to make a choice between working in a company or becoming a full-time professional artist.
“It was a big, scary act of self-belief that I was able to pull off, and I’m glad it worked out,” she said.
Before she became known for mural painting, Hochhalter’s first major commission for public art was a photography project for the Union Hospitals UAP Medical Office building. He was asked to create visual vacations of Indiana and Illinois to display as large-scale photos. Hochhalter traveled to state and municipal parks, green spaces and nature preserves in Indiana and Illinois to capture the diversity of landscapes.
Her first mural project was the Terre Haute City Parks Mural at Deming Park in 2015. She has since painted murals that can be seen in 12 Points, Charlie’s Bar and Grill, downtown from Terre Haute, the Alabama Bar & Grill side of Brazil and cities like Noblesville, Fishers, Indianapolis and dozens of other places.
Hochhalter has several mural projects lined up for 2022. She is working on a mural for downtown Paris, Illinois, and one for Cottage Coffee and Ice Cream in Clinton. She has been commissioned to create a stand-alone mural for the CANDLES Holocaust Museum and will embark on her largest mural to date in downtown Terre Haute. She was also selected by the Marion County Capitol Improvement Board, in conjunction with the Indy Arts Council, to create two public works of art to hang in the Key Bank Suites at Gainbridge Fieldhouse, home of the Indiana Pacers. These pieces will be completed by June of this year.
Hochhalter finds it nearly impossible to choose her favorite mural, but admits a few projects hold special meaning to her. One such project is the Veteran’s Memorial Museum mural on Wabash Avenue which was completed in 2021. The silhouette of the soldier in the mural is based on a photo of a real person, Hochhalter’s nephew who works for the Air National Guard in Terre Haute. A second part of the mural is planned as an attachment on a panel that will feature the names of fallen soldiers from Vigo County.
The other mural that holds a special place in the heart of Hochhalter is the mural depicting community life along the Nickel Plate Trail in Fishers. Within the mural is a memorial portrait of Harlej, a K-9 killed in the line of duty in 2019. Hochhalter invited the handling officer and his family to help paint Harlej’s likeness on the mural . The finished painting bears his name and the end date of his watch on his collar.
Hochhalter feels blessed to make a living doing something she loves and enjoys, pushing herself to think bigger and create harder things. She is driven by a passion for public art and is grateful to communities who not only welcome her to paint, but also realize the investment they make in their own community.
“Murals and public art increase the perceived value of a community,” Hochhalter said. “I’ve become very involved and an advocate for public art, not just because I make a living that way. But because it has such an impact on the community.
She thinks this is especially true for Terre Haute. “Terre Haute has a big city appreciation and support for the arts,” she said. “It’s amazing how many people in this small town want to have public art. That’s really saying something for such a small town and it had a big impact on my career.
This story appeared in the May 2022 edition of Terre Haute Vivante.