Cincinnati Strong Man Mural Dedication with Artworks and Moerlein Beer

Posted on by Jason Snell

What an amazing ride! Super-fun weekend - meet the Holtgrewe massive family, released a Cincinnati Strongman Porter Beer with Moerlein and celebrated with family and community at Moerlein's Taproom and at the mural dedication with the Mayor of Cincinnati, John Cranley.

Thanks Artworks, all the artists and students, family members, Moerlein and Cincinnati!

Thanks to Andrew Higley for the rad photos!

Front Page of the Cincinnati Enquirer - "So Strong, He Lifted the Reds, All of them"

Posted on by Jason Snell

So excited to wake up, and see a bunch of texts and social media posts of the Cincinnati Strongman Mural had made the cover of not only Cincinnati.com, but the Cincinnati Enquirer, "So Strong, He Lifted the Reds, All of them" 

Thank you so much - thanks to Henry's family, all the kids that help bring this to life at Artworks this summer, Cori Wolff, Colleen Houston, and everyone at ArtWorks - the Cincinnati Enquirer, John Faherty and Carrie Cochran, Cincinnati.com - Photos by Carrie Cochran, Story by @John Faherty

Photo by @CarrieCochran with Cincinnati.com

Photo by @CarrieCochran with Cincinnati.com

Photo by @CarrieCochran with Cincinnati.com

Photo by @CarrieCochran with Cincinnati.com

Photo by @CarrieCochran with Cincinnati.com

Photo by @CarrieCochran with Cincinnati.com

Photo by @CarrieCochran with Cincinnati.com

Photo by @CarrieCochran with Cincinnati.com

Some walls, most even, are nothing more than architectural necessities, holding up beams and joists. Some walls are different. Some walls have magic in them.

One month ago, the wall holding up the north side of a building in Over-the-Rhine was just brick and mortar. Now it is art and story. The transformation began when Jason Snell, an artist with a thick beard and a curious mind, reached back through Cincinnati history and found Henry Holtgrewe, a man with a heavy mustache and a barrel chest.

Holtgrewe may have been the strongest man on earth. He was so strong that on Aug. 29, 1896, a Saturday, he picked up the Cincinnati Reds. It was all 20 players, plus the groundskeeper, a stack of heavy barbells and the team mascot, a monkey named Jocko.

The weights, ballplayers, groundskeeper and Jocko totaled 4,500 pounds. They all got on an elevated platform, and Holtgrewe stood underneath it, steadied himself and lifted them off the ground.

It is a story only slightly more impressive than how a mural got made on the wall at 1215 Vine St. The mural was the result of persistence, serendipity, an art program and a mysterious young woman who walked past Jason Snell's office one night and said: "Why does somebody have a photo of my great-great grandfather?"

A man from another time perfectly relevant today

Over the past 18 years, ArtWorks has worked to turn the city into a piece of art. The organization pays artists and apprentices and since 1996 is responsible for 75 murals in 36 Cincinnati neighborhoods and seven nearby cities.

Tamara Harkavy founded ArtWorks in 1996 and says murals do more than just make a wall prettier. A mural can create connections. A mural can show a city's past and its future. Particularly this mural because when Snell looked through time and found Holtgrewe, who lived more than 100 years ago, he found a man who would have been comfortable in Over-the-Rhine today.

"The essence of the 1870s, '80s, '90s is completely relevant today," Harkavy said. "Holtgrewe had that pride of place, he was an entrepreneur, he completely was what we are now. He was a maker."

Harkavy loves all of her projects, but this one might be particularly special to her. "There is so much magic and serendipity in this project."

Snell is a graphic designer and a good one. He also does branding and music and animation, all of which made him attractive to companies in New York, San Francisco, Seattle and Austin, Texas.

Six years ago, he was getting serious about moving when he met a girl, a local girl. She was smart and talented, and she liked him back. Suddenly he was staying, which led him to opening a storefront for his design business on Vine Street in Over-the-Rhine. He thought he should learn more about the neighborhood.

"I wanted to know everything, every story, all the history," Snell said. "You realize how beautiful the place where you live really is. These stories keep unfolding and unfolding."

An immigrant to Cincinnati, and maybe the strongest man

One of the names he came across early was Henry Holtgrewe. Holtgrewe was born in 1862 in Hanover, Germany, and came to Cincinnati when he was 22 years old and moved in with a cousin in the West End. He started working in saloons just as soon as he arrived, moving from one to the next until he had his own place on Vine Street.

Holtgrewe became known immediately for his ability to pick up heavy things. And this was at a time when people really cared about things like that.

He was in the newspaper, including this one, repeatedly, referred to as the Cincinnati Strong Man, the West End Hercules and eventually as the World's Strongest Man. He was also in the paper in 1915 for selling beer on a Sunday and got a $25 fine. That was a no-no.

At the time, big men would challenge each other to feats of strength. There would be money at stake and usually – all right, always – some wagering. Holtgrewe was built for this. He was 5 foot 8 inches tall and weighed 270 pounds. His bicep was 19 inches around.

In 1903, The Cincinnati Enquirer reported that, over the years, Holtgrewe had once "lifted a barrel of water with one finger with a man seated on it." He also once put on a show by putting a "3,000-pound dumb bell on his shoulders and walking across the stage with three men hanging to it."

But the big one, the one he was known for, was the lifting of the Reds and Jocko. Apparently even at a time when watching burly men lifting really heavy stuff was a big deal, this was a Reds town.

Spaeth wrote back within 15 minutes and said: "Did you know that Henry Holtgrewe is my great-grandfather?" Then she asked how much she could give.

And this, Harkavy said, is the exact promise of a mural. It can bring people together, it can bridge generations, it can find connections that nobody knew existed.

A vaudeville graphic novel for the Cincinnati Strong Man

The money found, the art began. Snell's vision is not a typical mural. He calls it a "vaudeville graphic novel." And it kind of is. The mural tells the story of the Cincinnati Strong Man on more than 2,000 square feet of brick.

The scaffolding went up, and the painting began with the help of nine youth apprentices. Taylor Helms,16, sat one morning on the scaffolding, painting and thinking about the past and the present and the future. And Henry Holtgrewe.

"You wish he could see it," Helms said. "It's weird, but maybe we are keeping him alive by doing this. I hope so. Wouldn't that be great."

To Helms' right, Kimmia Crossty, 20, found hope as she brushed. "I think maybe it can inspire people," Crossty said. "Maybe they can be a wall if they do great things."

Earlier this month, Spaeth pulled into the parking lot next to the mural and could not believe her eyes. "It was so exciting, it was very emotional," Spaeth said, beaming. "I thought I was going to cry. It's so big."

She thanked Snell and hugged him and showed him some of the medals her great-grandfather had earned as a strong man. She told him about Holtgrewe's children: Frederick, Hilda, Hellen and Marie. She said there were many grandchildren and great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren.

Spaeth talked about people who were related to each other, and the things they did and the people they knew. She said that she had worked very closely with Harkavy's father. The connections kept coming and Snell fell silent listening to every word.

Then Spaeth went up the scaffolding and saw the images and the words and the stories she heard kept rushing back. Henry Holtgrewe was, she said, described by all as a sweet, sweet man. She stopped and thanked each of the painters working with their paint brushes and walked up the steps to come face to face with the man she had never known. She gave him a small kiss and thanked everybody once again.

"All these connections, the way this whole thing happened, it's amazing," Spaeth said. "It's like some magic happened. It's so Cincinnati." 

Lumenocity 2014

Posted on by Jason Snell

Meeting and showing off my Charley Harper animations with Brett Harper, Charley's son.

Meeting and showing off my Charley Harper animations with Brett Harper, Charley's son.

It was an amazing ride.

Getting invited to design and animate on the Lumenocity team was a real adventure from the get-go. Dan and Steve of the Brave Berlin agency had invited me to work on various aspects, collaborating on the closing Tschaikowsky piece and then owning the Polovestsian Dance piece, a 12 minute animated journey through Charley Harper's work. It was a ton of work, and took a huge chunk of the summer that allowed me to work with the Charley Harper estate to pull from his work and bring it to motion through the Cincinnati Symphony and collaborate with other amazing designers and animators. A gift to Cincinnati, and in its second year, Lumenocity 2014 was spectacular. With over 50,000+ people attending 3 nights, and getting to see Charley Harper's work come to motion made me feel a real sense of accomplishment, something that I will remember my whole life, thanks team!

Last night before Lumenocity, hitting the render button after an all-nighter.

Last night before Lumenocity, hitting the render button after an all-nighter.

50,000+ people seeing Charley Harper's work animated for the first time, a truly amazing moment in my life. Thanks to Dan and Steve at Brave Berlin, Brett Harper and the Charley Harper estate and everyone involved, Haile Foundation, CSO and Cincinnati.

50,000+ people seeing Charley Harper's work animated for the first time, a truly amazing moment in my life. Thanks to Dan and Steve at Brave Berlin, Brett Harper and the Charley Harper estate and everyone involved, Haile Foundation, CSO and Cincinnati.

Charley's work with deer tail saying hello, "I think he would love this," Brett Harper

Charley's work with deer tail saying hello, "I think he would love this," Brett Harper

Lumenocity Team with Brett Harper and crew

Lumenocity Team with Brett Harper and crew

The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra are proud to present LUMENOCITY 2014! The performances will begin at 8:30 p.m. each night with John Morris Russell conducting the Pops. After intermission, Music Director Louis Langrée will lead the CSO for an amazing display of sound and light. 

The program for the second half of the performance starts with the iconic "Fanfare for the Common Man" by Copland. The program also features "Short Ride in a Fast Machine" by John Adams, Tchaikovsky's "Fifth Symphony," "Nimrod" from Elgar's "Enigma Variations," and Borodin's "Polovstian Dances" from "Prince Igor."

Before the performance begins, organizers have planned LUMENOCITY Village which will feature pre-concert performances in Washington Park's bandstand, arts and crafts, and a greatly expanded food and beverage service. The village opens at 4 p.m. on Friday, August 1, and will open at 11 a.m. on both Saturday and Sunday, August 2 and 3. 

90.9 WGUC will broadcast LUMENOCITY on radio Friday, August 1
This radio broadcast will be on Cincinnati's classical public radio station, 90.9 WGUC. The broadcast will feature the complete LUMENOCITY performance, including the first half featuring the Cincinnati Pops and guest performers, and the second half with the Cincinnati Symphony. This special radio broadcast will allow those who live with a view of Music Hall to both see and hear LUMENOCITY from a distance. 

CET airs LUMENOCITY live on television Saturday, August 2
CET, Cincinnati's public television station will air the second half of LUMENOCITY live starting at 9:30 p.m. This portion features the CSO led by Louis Langrée performing five selections set to stunning visuals developed by the artists of Brave Berlin. This live broadcast will be available to nearly 900,000 television households throughout the region. 

Simulcasts at Fountain Square and Riverbend Music Center on Sunday, August 3
For the final performance, the public is invited to experience together a live simulcast at these locations. Audiences are welcome to bring picnics and lawn chairs to either location and experience LUMENOCITY free of charge with friends and neighbors. Concessions will also be available at Riverbend. 

LUMENOCITY to the Worldwide Web 
Thanks to CET and 90.9 WGUC, LUMENOCITY will be carried via live web stream to people around the world for all three performances at lumenocity2014.com. The live stream will begin at 8:30 p.m. EST on all three days August 1, 2, and 3.

Illustrator by Day, Musician by Night, Jason Snell brings 'Screaming Loud' color to Lumenocity

Posted on by Jason Snell


CINCINNATI -- Six nights ago, Jason Snell stepped onto the familiar stage at MOTR Pub in Over-the-Rhine, wrapped his fist around a microphone and barked out throaty vocals with his latest crushing band, Temple.

Snell stayed at the club past midnight, then was up by 7 a.m., trading his microphone for a stylus and trackpad at his small storefront studio on Vine Street. Two large iMacs in front of him, Snell continued the fine detail work on one of the most painstaking projects he’s taken on as an animator—illustrating about 12 minutes of music for this weekend’s LumenoCity.

“I’m tightening the screws and working on the final minute-thirty, which doesn’t sound like much, but man, it’s a lot,” he said. “I’m working on something really awesome and I just want to make sure it’s right.”

The work of Snell and four others on the visual team assembled by the Cincinnati creative duo Brave Berlin will bathe Music Hall in a kaleidoscope of color and character, set to the live music of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.

Snell’s segment, set to the Polovetsian Dances by Russian composer Alexander Borodin, is an homage to the late Cincinnati artist Charley Harper, who was best known for his modernist, geometric takes on wildlife. Harper died in 2007.

Snell worked closely with his estate to select, re-create and animateHarper’s static images. Snell also needed to convert Harper’s original palette of browns and reds into “vibrant, screaming-loud colors”—Harper’s original color choices wouldn’t work against the brick backdrop of Music Hall.

“He was doing all this before computers,” Snell said of Harper. “He painted all these thin lines and he thought of it as art, but there was that commercial side, too, and he made a living with it.”

Just as impressive is the living Snell has carved for himself. He grew up in Cincinnati and studied illustration at the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning. All the while, he played in local rock bands.

Today, at age 36 and built like a defensive lineman, Snell is the sole proprietor of We Have Become Vikings, the design firm he developed after stints with Lightborne, Possible and other creative agencies in Cincinnati. He spent much of the past two years in transit to Seattle developing icons and the motion system behind Amazon.com’s new phone. Most locals know Snell better for his music, with Temple and, more notably, the power-grunge outfit Ohio Knife.

For LumenoCity, Snell and the rest of the visual team met this past spring with CSO Music Director Louis Langree, dissecting the musical scores to pinpoint emotional touchstones and to coordinate the imagery. Snell works from a software program with the music embedded on a timeline, serving as a roadmap for his animations. Langree gave feedback on early drafts.

During the LumenoCity performances, an associate music conductor will sit alongside the visual director, telling him to speed or slow the animations in real time to keep the visuals synchronized with the music.

“The symphony brought a lot of ideas to the table,” Snell said. “We wound up doing a lot of what we came up with when we were just throwing out a bunch of ideas.”

Snell almost didn’t stick around Cincinnati long enough to see, let alone invest in, Over-the-Rhine’s resurgence. He was eyeing other cities in the mid-2000s, when he met Sara Bedinghaus, a senior project manager with 3CDC. Snell was impressed with the work she was doing—and with Bedinghaus. The two eventually married.

“It got me really excited to get back into Cincinnati, lean into the history and recommit,” Snell said of 3CDC’s work. “When you’re young, that stuff doesn’t so much matter, but I saw the infrastructure in place and started appreciating what was happening. It gave creatives something to grab onto.”

Throughout his time working with Amazon.com, Snell also dealt with another challenge, working with the IRS to square six years of back taxes.

“It was just TurboTax,” he said of the reason for his tax burden. “They’ll let you write anything in there.”

Before turning his attention back to his desktop, Snell handed over a white vinyl 45-rpm single of a new Ohio Knife song, “No Clear God,” sharing platter space on the flipside with a song by the band Skeleton Hands. Copies will be available when the bands perform Fri., Aug. 8, at Fountain Square.

“I hope I’ve done right by the estate,” Snell said of Harper’s family and his LumenoCity work. “I’m really excited to see the looks on the family’s faces—everyone’s faces. I think kids are going to go bonkers.”

Watch the video player above for a sneak peek behind the scenes with Brave Berlin and the designs that make up Lumenocity.

Jason Snell also appears on WCPO's live-streaming Reds show The Fifth Mascot as Mr. Satin. The show airs Thursdays at 2 p.m. at wcpo.com/live.