With a 16-by-16-foot splash of vibrant color, the Montana Natural History Center received the final touches on its exterior renovation.

As the eight panels that make up artist Stephanie Frostad’s “Radiant” mural were pieced together Wednesday morning by a boom truck crew working at the front of the building, a nature scene filled with a host of creatures and bright greens, yellows and blues came together on a wall that had for months been covered only by sheet of Tyvek house wrap.

“It’s been a serious labor of love,” said Whitney Schwab, MNHC development and marketing director, as she watched the panels go up with Frostad and a handful of center staff.

Most of the exterior renovation of the building, which the center shares with Five Valleys Land Trust, was completed in January.

Upgrades included a new stucco and steel siding facade and natural landscaping.

Frostad’s piece was chosen out of 34 submissions to bring the entire project together.

“Radiant” will be unveiled Friday during a First Friday show at the center, 120 Hickory St. The event begins at 4:30 p.m. The unveiling will follow a short presentation at 5:30 p.m.

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A seven-person committee helped choose “Radiant” as the winning piece.

Submissions came from traditional muralists and a stained-glass artist, but Frostad’s piece was chosen because it best captured the center’s mission to promote and cultivate the appreciation, understanding and stewardship of nature through education.

“When we saw it, in the whole room, you could feel people’s faces light up and their shoulders drop,” Schwab said.

The dragonfly prominently featured in the piece ties back to the MNHC logo. The rest of the piece invites people to explore and be inspired by nature, Schwab said.

“We wanted something that could be an iconic image from far away but also make you want to step in and take a closer look,” Schwab said.

Frostad said Wednesday she wanted “Radiant” to acknowledge the diversity of the animal world. In a way, Frostad said, the mural is a representation of a “really dense page from a master field guide journal.”

Frostad said that of the critters that appear on the piece, the “little creatures” got a lot of space.

Along with the mature male western pondhawk dragonfly that dominates the piece, there are crane flies, damsel flies, water striders and butterflies.

Some larger, well-known animals like bears and wolves are represented in more subtle ways. Wolf tracks appear here and there. Tufts of beargrass make sure bears weren’t left out altogether. A mother deer and her fawn are depicted under the dragonfly, as are a pair of geese with their goslings.

Frostad said she brought the concepts together with “whimsy and brilliant color.”

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The mural was built from Frostad’s original 18-by-18-inch oil painting, which will be up for auction at the center’s Fall Celebration on Friday, Oct. 11.

The process to scale the painting into the 16-by-16-foot mural while keeping the colors and integrity intact was tedious.

Big Bear Sign Co. employees scanned the painting in high-resolution pieces and reassembled it using Photoshop.

Then it was printed in pieces and reassembled once again. A weatherproofing layer was added to the mural as well, graphic designer Brett Naillon said.

Frostad was happy with the outcome.

“It’s amazing how well it reproduced,” she said.

Now that the exterior of the building is complete, work has begun inside the center to transform an old warehouse area into a 5,000 square feet of space that will include a high-tech classroom and three leasable office spaces.

The interior work was funded through a $200,000 M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust grant and $150,000 in matching funds the center raised.

The center’s main exhibit hall will also receive a set of upgrades before the two areas are connected.

Schwab expects the interior work to be finished by March.

The upgrades are all a part of a project to make sure the building’s appearance matches the center’s mission, said Arnie Olsen, MNHC executive director, who watched the mural installation Wednesday.

After the mural was installed, it was covered by canvas that will remain in place until the unveiling Friday.

“We’re thrilled,” Olsen said. “It really helps with our identity. People will say, ‘Oh yeah, the Natural History Center, they have that mural, I know them.’ ”

Reporter Jenna Cederberg can be reached at 523-5241 or at jenna.cederberg@missoulian.com.

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