Jay Allen

Making Life More Colorful

Belvidere is known as the City of Murals, and Jay Allen, owner and president of ShawCraft Sign Co., Inc., in Machesney Park, Ill., is a big reason why.

Born and raised in Belvidere, Allen is an original member of the Walldogs, a passionate group of mural-painting artists. Since their founding in Allerton, Iowa, in 1993, Allen and fellow artists have completed more than 700 murals across 14 countries.

“Whenever we go to a community, we always see a new sense of spirit,” says Allen, also a board member of the Boone County Arts Council. “I’m addicted to helping communities improve.”

Allen helped to create 10 murals in downtown Belvidere during the city’s Walldog Festival back in 1997. As a result, Belvidere received the 1997 Governor’s Art Award from the Illinois Arts Council and was given the City of Murals nickname by then-Gov. Jim Edgar.

There are 31 murals in Belvidere, and the Walldogs created 11 of them. Several other artists, including local high school students, created the remaining murals. Each one depicts a piece of Belvidere’s rich history, says Allen.

“Every community needs to hang its hat on something in order to have a sense of community pride,” he says. “The murals help give Belvidere an identity.”

Many of the murals can be found in the downtown district along State Street, from Hurlbut Street to Logan Avenue. Other murals can also be found along First Street.

Allen – who’s married to his wife, Jody and has one son, Evan – has been in the sign and mural business since 1983. He’s also a recipient of numerous awards for his work. In 2009, the Belvidere Area Chamber of Commerce awarded Allen with the Distinguished Citizen Award for special services performed in the Belvidere/Boone County area.

That same year, the Illinois Humanities Council awarded him one of the Studs Terkel Humanities Service Awards for his public artwork and work in the humanities.

“Imagine driving into Belvidere every day and seeing that water tower that says ‘City of Murals,’” he says. “Is that something I can really walk away from? These murals cost me time and money, but I love it.”

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