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Omaha Magazine

Mural Artist Theresa Murray: Get Out of Her Way—She Has a Paintbrush

Apr 30, 2021 01:05PM ● By Tamsen Butler
Theresa Murray in front of dog mural

Photo by Bill Sitzmann

Artist Theresa Murray is easy to spot in a crowd because she’s the one intensely studying and sketching folks around her. “I’m usually working on some sort of commission, and there’s not a lot of time for my own art, so I’ll do pen and ink drawings of the people around me at my son’s swim meets,” she said. 

It’s creating murals, however, that’s allowed Murray to make a living as an artist.

Murray grew up in Omaha, but earned her fine arts degree from Northwest Missouri State University. “[Northwest] had amazing professors,” she said. Her plan was to get involved in graphic design, and while in school she did an internship and some volunteer work in the field. “I was a Jane of all trades.” 

Her first mural was “the cow jumping over the moon” nursery rhyme scene, which she pained upon learning she was going to be a mom. “I was nesting!” Murray exclaimed. “I’d never done a mural before, but I wanted a kick-butt nursery for my son. I had a paintbrush in my hand and I was seven months pregnant—no one was going to stop me.” The work holds a special place in her heart and is still featured in her online portfolio, complete with a very pregnant Murray standing in front of the wall.

Eventually she began doing small mural projects for friends. “Plants on the wall and things like that,” she said. Then she met some moms at her son’s preschool who were interior designers, and they helped her make some important connections. “They really gave me a start, and I began doing some mural work for Interior Design Group,” Murray said.

Murray went on to create a permanent display at the Omaha World-Herald, a pen and ink series on how newspapers are printed. “They used it for school tours,” she said, proudly. She also created murals in homes featured in Omaha’s popular Street of Dreams Home Tour.

In addition to mural work for both commercial and residential clients, Murray teamed up with her sister, Kelly Brakenhoff, to create children’s books about a deaf dog named Duke. Brakenhoff is an ASL interpreter with 30 years’ experience, and the books help readers appreciate a deaf person’s perspective. A third book featuring Duke is in development. 

Though much of what Murray creates has a whimsical, fairytale feel, she also thrives in creating realistic images with her brushes and paint. Subjects have ranged from an Italian storefront scene to cyclists on the trail to geometric shapes. She’s adamant on the type of paint she uses for her murals. “I only use Benjamin Moore latex wall paint because of the depth of color and the total quality of the paint,” she said. Each project she does “is bid by the job, encompassing estimated hours, supplies, and drive time,” Murray said.

One residential mural Murray created required her to do the work from high scaffolding, which was a particular challenge for her since she’s afraid of heights. “But I climbed that scaffolding every day and didn’t fall off,” she said with a laugh. 

Commercial client Diana Schwahn of Rehab Guru in Omaha described Murray as “a remarkable artist. She is able to create unique, one-of-a-kind murals. All I had to do was give her an idea of what I wanted, and she was able to create an individualized masterpiece!”

Creating custom murals looks a little different now than it did when Murray first started out. Social media (Pinterest, in particular) allows her clients to come to the table with a more detailed vision. Design shows on television “can be misleading,” Murray said. “Rare is it that a mural will ever take one day. I’m old school and do things freehand.” 

Murray suggests that clients consider the longevity of a mural before deciding on a design, especially with nurseries and playrooms. “If we make it too kid-like for the baby, then the baby will outgrow it in a short time. I try to make it to where the kid can enjoy it for six or seven years. I elevate the art so both the kids and adults can enjoy it.”  

See Murray’s portfolio at murrayartanddesign.com.

This article originally appeared in the May issue of Omaha Home. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.  

Photo by Bill Sitzmann