On one of the coldest days of 2020 so far, Antonia Ramis Miguel was bundled up with a black parka draping her shoulders and a thick turtleneck sweater underneath.
Her hands appeared cracked in the late February cold; on the tips of her fingers, there were colorful specs of leftover paint.
As she walked back and forth from her white Honda CRV — parked outside the visitors center off Main Street on Ellicott City — to her 15-foot-by-43-foot mural, her long floral skirt brushed against the frozen asphalt.
“The back of my car is this little studio. I have all the paint there, everything I need,” she said. “I park it right next to the mural because I constantly have to be getting things in and out.”
Miguel, 56, was selected in June as part of a mural competition organized by the Fund for Art in Ellicott City, a nonprofit founded in 2017 to bring public art to the community. She said she’ll be done with the finishing touches in the next few weeks.
Despite the frigid temperatures, she said she was running on a natural high. Just a few days before, television crews filmed Miguel painting her mural, which she calls “Car Dealership: Looking into the Past.”
In late February, there was confusion and curiosity buzzing around Ellicott City with the visit of celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay and his crew. When Miguel found out she would be featured on the special two-hour episode of “24 Hours to Hell and Back” that will air in May, she instantly took to Facebook to share the news.
“It’s the recognition of the work. More people know me now,” said Miguel, a 16-year resident of Ellicott City.
Sights and sounds from Gordon Ramsay's video crew for "24 Hours to Hell and Back" filming volunteers staging a clean up of Ellicott City.
From the time she submitted her idea to the Fund for Art in Ellicott City competition, she had a vision. Miguel looked through the spaces that were open to design an entry for and instantly said, “I like that wall.”
“It’s big — I love big,” she said of the surface on the east wall of Sweet Elizabeth Jane at 8289 Main St. “I’m always painting on large surfaces.”
While she loved the canvas she was given, she loved the story of the building even more.
It had been the site of many businesses over the years; in the 1930s, it was the Ellicott City Motor Co., a car dealership for the Ford Co.
“Thinking about what you can paint there, but then knowing that it had been a car dealership, I thought what if I can pretend the brick wall has a hole in it and we can see what’s going on inside?” Miguel said.
Over the past few months, that vision became a reality. Using the clothing and car styles of the period, Miguel painted Ford workers working on cars as if passers-by were looking through a time machine.
“After I thought of that [idea], I thought it can’t be anything else. It has to be that,” she said.
After being selected in the competition, it was a few months until the process started. It wasn’t until mid-August that Miguel said the wall was ready to be painted. The brick of the wall had been damaged; it wasn’t a flat wall and the smoothing process took a month to dry.
She started by priming the surface and, then for the next five weeks, Miguel was at the brick wall working for 10 to 12 hours a day.
“Think: This is August, it was 92 degrees and I was with my little umbrella,” she said. “When it was hot, I had to paint basic bricks. I couldn’t do any figuring or detail; I couldn’t focus. There were a few hours [each day] it was hard to be out there.”
She used premium outdoor paint for the mural, citing its weather-, water-, heat-proofing qualities. Through the steamy summer days, Miguel would carry a spray bottle of water since, in the heat, the paints would dry quickly.
“[Because of the heat] sometimes I would say the paint dries on my brush,” she said.
With momentum and spare time, she wanted to get as much done as possible before the cooler weather and potential snow blew through. And she wanted to focus before her schedule was packed full since she has two kids in school and teaches art classes at her studio, Miguel’s Atelier Art School, also in Ellicott City.
“I didn’t even think about it. It was just go, go, go,” she said. “The longest day was 13 hours.”
Miguel has been a multidisciplinary artist for 35 years after training for seven years in art school in Mallorca, Spain, where she was born. She said she has painted on canvases of all different sizes, but this mural was her biggest to date.
“Once you start big, a few feet don’t make a difference,” she said.
After that five-week intense push to complete work on the mural, the major parts were done. However, she proved to be right — as the seasons changed and everyday life took over, her visits to the mural became less frequent.
She has had routine visitors since she started painting seven months ago including police officers, residents and Main Street visitors who stop and gawk at the newest part of historic Ellicott City.
Miguel had a couple she referred to as “regulars” who would stop to check in on the mural every day while walking their boxer, Ella. Originally Miguel was planning to paint a French bulldog on the mural. However, as Ella and her owners continued to appear, Miguel had an idea: Paint Ella.
Howard County Times: Top stories Newsletter
Daily highlights from Howard County's number one source for local news.
“When they came back and saw their dog on the wall, they got emotional,” Miguel said.
She anticipates two or three more weeks of touch-ups and small add-ons before a final sealer can coat the mural to protect the piece from weather conditions.
“We are thrilled that [the mural] is now completed and that we have the plaque up to describe the significance of the building to Ellicott City’s history,” Fund for Art in Ellicott City President Kim Egan said.
“The mural helps visitors to our town to understand the role that Ellicott City played in the growth of our nation, and it also provides visual interest for pedestrians and for vehicles traveling up the old National Road.”
Miguel hopes this mural won’t be her last outdoor Ellicott City contribution. She said there’s another space available for painting right off Main Street at the former Ellicott Theatre.