Imafidor brings rolling plains, Alaskan landscape and Nigerian touch to Mellette
By Shiloh Appel
While touring the small town of Mellette in Spink County, one might notice some new wildlife such as Alaskan brown bears, buffalo, and coyotes, to name a few. The animals are painted into a colorful landscape mural full of vibrant colors depicting the wilderness of Alaska and the plains of South Dakota. The artwork is the masterpiece of Nigerian artist, Jonathan Imafidor. Hired by Mellette resident and hunting guide, Willie Dvorak, Imafidor painted the scenes on the former American Legion building (now owned by Dvorak) depicting places and animals that have been focal points of Dvorak’s guided hunts. According to Imafidor, Dvorak happened to see a mural Imafidor and his friend, Dotun Popoola, painted in Faulkton, and the rest was history.
After fifteen 11-hour days of work during the month of July, Imafidor could finally step back and consider his labor on the old Legion building finished. At least until next summer, when he plans to return and cover the mural in a clear coat of paint to protect it from the elements for many years to come. It has been a labor of love, according to Imafidor.
“I prefer to do my murals in the Dakotas. In small towns, instead of in the big city,” he said. “The amount of joy and satisfaction that I get when I paint my murals in small little towns…I think the impact is really more in little towns and little communities in that part of the country. More than in big cities. In big cities, the impact is very little, because in big cities there is so much of them.
Everywhere I paint the murals in the Dakotas I get so many messages, I get calls about how I am making them happy and I am making them feel good. I get so many compliments about how I make [people] feel.
Something I noticed when I come to that side of the country is that a lot of people suffer from depression because the winter is always so long and it is so cold. What I am bringing kind of helps people, you know? After that period of cold and depression and all that, they come out and see the lovely colors, the bright colors. It kind of has a great impact.”
With each mural he paints, Imafidor said he always makes time to talk to people.
“There is this pattern that I use when I paint my murals. The first four days people do not show much interest because I have my colors everywhere. As the painting comes together, then people become more interested, and they come and tell me how amazing it is. Then people keep coming and the amount of people keeps increasing by the day. They want to know what I am doing, and I tell them. It is part of the process,” he said. “Then, sometimes, kids will come around and I will give them [a] brush and let them put some colors on the wall.”
In his kindness towards children, Imafidor has not forgotten his own childhood days full of creativity growing up in Nigeria. From a very young age, his talent was evident. He used whatever he had on hand to create artwork.
“I made a car out of boxes. To pull them, I tied a rope in front of it. It had wheels, and they could ride around,” said Imafidor. “I started doing it for other kids. I would make the brand of cars they wanted. Some would say ‘I want a pickup’ or ‘I want an SUV’. I would make the different brands. I would put the logo on them. Then I made drawings. I would make a lot of different drawings. My dad is a teacher in the high school. So he had these books. He had a lot of books. So what I would do, is I would look through the books and I would look for any blank pages. Because all of the books had two or three blank pages. I would tear the blank pages off, and I would stick them together, and create a drawing book out of that.”
He became locally famous in his high school days for his artwork and creativity. Although Imafidor’s unique talent is his own, his creativity seems to run in the family. He said his father, who teaches mathematical studies, is also creative.
“He can’t draw that well, but he is really creative. He draws house plans. Like the house that they live in now, he drew the house plan,” said Imafidor.
As Imafidor grew up, his love for art grew with him. He went on to achieve a painting degree at the University of Nigeria and became a professor. He taught painting and drawing for six years.
“After that, I applied for a master’s degree in the U.S. at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Atlanta. I was a student, so I had to come over to get a master’s degree,” said Imafidor. “But before I came to get a master’s degree, I had come to the U.S. to hold art shows in Florida and in Lemmon, South Dakota.”
Imafidor said he came to Lemmon, South Dakota through the invitation of his friend, Dotun Popoola. Popoola discovered the sculpture artwork of Lemmon native, John Lopez online. Popoola, who is also a Nigerian and a sculptor, reached out to Lopez asking if he could travel to America and learn under Lopez’s tutelage.
“[Lopez] believed that he wouldn’t come, because it is such a far distance. He didn’t know my friend was going to make it, but my friend was ready to make it to come and learn sculpting from him,” said Imafidor. “While he was leaving, [Lopez] asked him ‘do you have a friend that can paint? You guys can come next year and there is a painting that I want to be done on the wall in town, so you guys can do it together for me.’ So when he came back, he told me about this project. I said ‘why not.’ So, the next year we came together and painted a mural and it was awesome.”
After finishing the mural in Lemmon, the two held an art show that summer. It soon became a tradition, and the art show has been held in Lemmon around Father’s Day weekend every summer since then.
Today, Imafidor’s schedule is very full. He is still working on his master’s degree, but has taken a break to focus on his murals. He is currently lined up to paint a mural in Lake Andes by October and he has several more commissions for murals in Atlanta, Georgia; and Mellette, Faulkton and Belle Fourche, South Dakota.
“I want to leave my art to inspire people and leave a good legacy on this side of the world.
I believe that I am bringing joy to other people and that alone brings me so much joy that I am touching life,” said Imafidor. “I am always looking for walls to paint on. For now, people have been reaching out to me. But very soon, I will be reaching out to people because I want to paint as many murals as I can in little communities in that part of the world because I see it has so much impact in those communities. I want to do more of that. I want to paint more murals and I want to help people. I want people to be happier after I leave. I want to leave something beautiful for people.”
Imafidor can be contacted by email at [email protected] or by phone at 404-509-8827. His Instagram handle is jonathanimafidor.