The traffic signal box at the corner of Highway 93 and Adirondac Avenue in Hamilton was surrounded on all sides by high school artists Wednesday, putting their unique touches on the otherwise plain object.
Inside the protection of nine bright orange traffic cones, four Corvallis High School students painted colorful images onto the signal boxes' four sides - images that invoked everything these kids love about the Bitterroot - cowboys, mountains, sunsets, horses, fishing, mountain bikes and, of course, bitterroot flowers.
Passers-by seemed to like what the kids were doing. One woman, driving a red Jeep, slowed as she rounded the corner on to Adirondac, honked and gave them a big thumbs-up.
"Keep up the good work!" she hollered out the window.
The man trying to make it through the intersection didn't like the Jeep slowing down, honking angrily at the dawdling vehicle. But the students got a smile out of it.
The students are taking part in Corvallis' 21st Century Afterschool Program, a federally funded program for middle- and high-school kids.
Inspired by similar traffic signal box art projects in Missoula, four Corvallis students - Jennifer Hall, Brenna Bourgeois, Megan Brouwer and Julia Battisti - organized the project, coming up with the theme for the box's art.
"We're tying in traditional Bitterroot with modern Bitterroot," said Kiah Nisly, the afterschool program coordinator. "They came up with the ideas on their own. It's amazing what you can do when you run with an idea."
With the help of Corvallis art teacher Maureen Powell, the group then gathered art from students and chose their four pictures from artists Dao Slagter, Miles Wickham, Tammie Jessop and Christa Cranmore.
Flash forward to Tuesday and four more students - Bourgeois, Hall, Melissa Clark and Zach Stephens - stood in the drizzling rain to do the initial cleaning, which included scraping tape and paint off the signal box.
"The poor kids last night were in the rain with paint scrapers, trying to get off layers and layers of paint," Nisly said Wednesday, "and not a single one complained."
Aside from the obvious artistic benefits to the students, this project also turned into somewhat of a civics lesson for them as well. Not knowing where to start, they first presented their idea to the Hamilton City Council in February.
Turns out the signal box is actually owned by the Montana Department of Transportation. So the kids had to give another presentation to them in Missoula, including a scale model built by Eric Kercher, a senior.
"They were initially nervous, but I think they have fallen in love with the idea so much, it became easy for them to talk about," Nisly said.
Sophomore Tammie Jessop worked Wednesday on her side of the box, which depicted a silhouette of a fly fisherman in the Bitterroot River.
The students recreated their paintings to scale on the box's sides, drawing outlines and filling in with colorful hues all free-hand.
"I like it better free-hand," Jessop said. "You can change it easier."
Fellow sophomore Christa Cranmore stood to the right of Jessop, painting a yellow horse on her side of the signal box.
For Cranmore, who aspires to attend art school, the signal box project provided the perfect opportunity to get involved in even more art work.
"It'll help me with college, to show I did public art," Cranmore said.
And with other signal boxes dotting Hamilton, Nisly and her crew hope this one box isn't the end of their artistic endeavors.
"We're hoping that we can do some kind of public art project every year," said Nisly, who mentioned not only signal boxes but possibly benches or walls of businesses as other possibilities.
Nisly wouldn't even mind if that means another group picking up where they left off.
"Hopefully, other people will want to do this project on their own," Nisly said, "and have every traffic signal box as an art piece of its own."
Reach reporter Whitney Bermes at 363-3300 or firstname.lastname@example.org.