Let’s face it, anyone who has approached a vault-toilet public restroom in a national forest has braced themselves. But one thing that won’t stink for visitors to the Reynold’s Hill and Nautilus restrooms at Vedauwoo recreation area is the decor.

Rather than bare walls speckled with flies, it’s the collage of forest critters, or the majestic moose or a proud heron that catches the eye.

“I never imagined that my artistic journey would have me squeezing behind a pit toilet to paint a sagebrush and pixie-cup lichen, but here we are,” Laramie artist Rhiannon Jakopak said.

Laramie artist Rhiannon Jakopak adds detail to a mural in a U.S. Forest Service public restroom at Vedauwoo recreation area east of Laramie. (Lukas Todd)

Jakopak and fellow Laramie artist Olivia Ewing were commissioned to spruce up the interiors of two public restrooms at Vedauwoo this summer with murals to inspire visitors. The nearly completed work, with support from Visit Laramie, is part of the nonprofit Laramie Public Art Coalition‘s mission to foster “community engagement through public art, exhibitions, special events, and educational programs,” according to the organization’s mission statement.

But Laramie Public Art Coalition Executive Director Laura Zorch McDermit never imagined that engagement might also take place inside remote public restrooms. To her surprise, it was the U.S. Forest Service that reached out to the group with the idea of adorning two facilities at Vedauwoo with murals to inspire visitors in need of relief.

Laramie artist Olivia Ewing contributed two new murals that will welcome visitors at the Reynold’s Hill public restroom at Vedauwoo recreation area. (Olivia Ewing)

“I think that’s kind of the best thing about this project,” Zorch McDermit said, “is that it’s going to be so unexpected for folks using these facilities. What’s really fun about art, too, is that it can pop up in these unexpected places.”

Artist Olivia Ewing used a public restroom frame at Vedauwoo recreation to showcase Mother Nature’s work. (Olivia Ewing)

Forest Service officials suggested scenes that celebrate the unique qualities of Vedauwoo (pronounced VEE-da-voo], a popular outdoor spot 23 miles east of Laramie. The area features strange towering granite boulders seemingly carved to fit just so. Tens of thousands of visitors come throughout the year to enjoy hiking trails that wind through shady, forested areas and around rock formations that challenge climbers — both expert and novice.

The Laramie Public Art Coalition chose Jakopak and Ewing from a large pool of local artists bursting at the opportunity to showcase their work. The artists chose their own design concepts and got down to business.

“Vault bathrooms are not always pleasant,” Ewing told WyoFile. “But while I’ve been working on my second stall I can hear people react positively when they walk in. This project is nurturing a more favorable experience for the people out there while promoting a message of responsible recreation — which is pretty awesome.”

Jakopak’s work features a whimsical take on both the critters and scenes and even the gear that people take with them while enjoying the outdoors. She said it’s especially gratifying to share her appreciation of public lands in a public lands setting.

Laramie artist Rhiannon Jakopak composed a mural inside a U.S. Forest Service public restroom “to highlight the numerous ways that a diversity of beings can sit, run, hop, hike, fly, ride, or sway in the Vedauwoo area,” she said. (Rhiannon Jakopak)

“When I think of United States Forest Service land, I think of multiple beings sharing the same space, finding a way for us to all simultaneously, and respectfully, exist in our own ways,” Jakopak said. 

Though the artwork celebrates the splendor of Vedauwoo, it also “defies the space,” Zorch McDermit said, which makes this particular art experience that much more potent. She’s also excited to spot photos of the murals that visitors might share on social media — along with the bathroom humor puns that many humans can’t resist.

“Artwork can be fun,” she said. “Everything doesn’t have to be serious.”

Dustin Bleizeffer is a Report for America Corps member covering energy and climate at WyoFile. He has worked as a coal miner, an oilfield mechanic, and for 25 years as a statewide reporter and editor primarily...

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  1. What a great project – love it! Thank you USFS, artists Ewing & Jakopak, Laramie Public Art Coalition, & WyoFile. I see a road trip in my future to enjoy Wyoming’s great outdoors and view the art in “public places”.