DRIGGS — When nature calls, most people aren’t really concerned about what’s on a bathroom’s walls.
That’s a problem for Helen Seay, a local artist and the self-styled “Latrine Queen.” Seay believes a trip to the bathroom should be an artistic experience, and she’s made a job out of painting handcrafted murals on public bathrooms.
Seay lives in Driggs and has enjoyed creating art from a young age. But for years, her worries of not being accepted and failing led her to keep her artistic talents to herself. It wasn’t until she was asked by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to paint murals on bathroom walls at popular recreational areas in eastern Idaho that she began to truly embrace her skills.
“After I did the (first) mural, people were like, ‘Oh, you’re an artist,’ and hearing it over and over and over again, I started to believe I’m an artist. It was definitely … a fear that I had to go through.”
Last summer, Seay gave three restrooms along the Teton River makeovers by painting unique scenes on the inside walls. She had such success from those projects that last winter, the Bureau of Land Management asked if she’d be interested in painting two murals for bathrooms at Henry’s Lake located near the western entrance to Yellowstone National Park.
She accepted the offer and started the project in June and completed both murals in early July. Seay said it took 50 hours on average per bathroom, plus lots of spray paint and acrylic paint markers to complete the finished products.
In her paintings, she highlighted birds and fish to represent the great outdoors people enjoy at Henry’s Lake.
“I love that it’s a public space and I love that it really is a surprise when you walk into the bathroom,” she said. “When someone’s in that mundane, ‘Oh, I got to go to the bathroom’ (mood), and they walk in and it’s wall to wall color, I hope it brings a little bit of joy to someone who might need it.”
Local BLM spokesman Bruce Hallman agrees with Seay that a bathroom isn’t normally a memorable place to visit or an experience one normally talks about. But Hallman knows her work has been a hit with people, and that people talk about it.
“With these murals, these ‘boring’ rooms can become an event in themselves. Something to talk about. An experience to inspire, gladden, brighten, start conversations and maybe even make our world a little better by inciting conservation efforts or artistic expressions from this unexpected moment of beauty,” Hallman said in an emailed statement to EastIdahoNews.com.
Seay said she’s gotten positive feedback on her bathroom artwork. People have told her whenever they have guests visit them in the area, they always take them on a tour of the bathrooms she’s painted. Seay’s even been told that some people make others go into the bathrooms when they’re floating the river simply to see the vibrant colors and designs.
She said it never mattered to her whether she was painting on a canvas, like she typically does, or murals on bathroom walls in unexpected places, she simply wants to use her talent to make people smile.
“Every time I paint, I’m trying to put my heart into those paintings so that when someone steps into that wall of my art, they feel that hug (and) love that I put in all my pieces,” Seay said. “I hope if anybody needs that extra little love that they feel it there.”
For more information on Seay’s artwork, visit her Facebook page by clicking here.