Salidan has painted more than 400 murals

“Do you like magic?” asked Salida muralist David Larcom. “Do you wanna see some?” The “magic” was a river kite, invented by Larcom. “I’ve invented many variations – I’m obsessed.”

The river kite he brought to demonstrate at Sands Lake was shaped like a large trout, and it was magical. Larcom said he’s also made a duck and a catamaran, but the trout is easiest to reproduce.

Larcom flew the kite through air and water, upstream. The trout kite danced and leapt in the quick-moving current. Then he let me try. It was far easier to start than a traditional kite and quite rewarding to jerk on the rope and watch the trout leap into the air.

The “mechanical things,” like the river kites and a fully automated mousetrap contraption that resets itself, are a new pastime for the artist. Street kites are the next endeavor. The plan is to make a plastic airplane that when launched will fly independently without string.

In addition to his murals and mechanical creations, Larcom plays the guitar and piano – occasionally at the Salida Community Center. A few months ago, The Mountain Mail published a photo of Larcom playing the piano by the Scout Hut. “I can’t walk past a piano without playing it.”

River kites and music aside, murals are Larcom’s specialty. “I’m good at it. I don’t mean to be arrogant, but I’ve been practicing for 50 years, I should be good at it.” He’s painted more than 400 murals in 16 countries and 44 states. He painted many of them while traveling around the world with the Navy. He tries to leave a mural everywhere he goes, especially in impoverished places and along highways to help brighten the community. “I want to be the Johnny Appleseed of murals.”

In Salida, Larcom painted a mural that spans nearly the entire width of the Salida Super Bowl Lanes building and a large trout on a white wall near True Value. His most recent completion in Poncha Springs took 30 hours and features a campfire scene with Chief Ouray. “I got paid for the one in Poncha, I often don’t.”

Getting permission from the city of Salida for the bowling alley mural was a four-year political battle. “It was a First Amendment right that I fought for and won. I didn’t back down when task forces, one after another, came up with reasons not to (allow me to proceed).” He had permission from both the building owner and the business owner.

Larcom said he was given lots of reasons, including that the mural would be a commercial sign and therefore he would need to pay to paint it. Larcom said the mural would not feature a bowling ball or pin, or advertise the bowling alley in any way. “I was threatened to be arrested once.” However, after Larcom’s lawyer told the city council “what’s what,” he was allowed to continue.

Several people assisted him on the mural, including Salida Creativity Lab Artistic Director Tina Gramann. He purposely “left some open space for people to add animals into it and sign their name.” Only about 20 people have added their names; Larcom hoped for closer to 100. “My 90-year-old mother painted a daisy. It doesn’t look good, but I cherish it and that’s why.”

Larcom received compensation to cover his materials. He worked on it for 100 hours. “I never paint small – never.”

All-inclusiveness is important in a “proper mural,” Larcom explained. While it’s hard to please everyone, that’s “your demographic. I’m trying to please everybody, that’s the challenge. I don’t always.”

Getting approval from the children is most important. If children don’t like the mural, “the muralist has failed.” Murals are the “most viewed art in the world” because they are usually painted along highways, Larcom said. “Hopefully, most people are pleased. If I leave a nice legacy of (public) artwork … it will bring pride to my family.”

Larcom grew up in Salida and graduated from high school in 1976. He attended the Colorado Institute of Art in Denver for one year in 1979 before he ran out of money. Then he joined the Navy. After the Navy, Larcom settled in Texas, where a famous muralist, Charice Cooper, took him under her wing. She taught Larcom that drawing is a “priority” and how to turn leads into paid work.

Larcom plans to continue painting murals forever but said he’d love to find a willing apprentice with whom he can share his 50 years of experience. “It would be a shame to waste it on just what I do.”

While Larcom believes murals need to be all-inclusive, he also believes art should be accessible and affordable. “Art isn’t for the rich only; the most I charge for a painting is $200. A poor man can buy that and cherish it. I appreciate a poor man much more than a rich man, who will just put it in his closet. So I will always be poor, and I’m OK with that. There are more important things.”