LEAVENWORTH, KS -- As the sunrise color palette trickles in over a 100-year-old building, Leigh Coffman sets up her scaffolding.

The muralist starts work every morning as early as she can stand, getting an early start on the Leavenworth Main Street Association's office in the city's historic downtown.

It depicts Leavenworth's history, greeting visitors with images of its military heritage, Buffalo soldiers, covered wagons and Lewis and Clark pointing toward a rising sun above the Missouri River.

For Coffman, working at dawn is a practical matter.

"I'm not a morning person," she says. "I try to get out here early or it gets too hot."

The heat of the day interferes with her paints. They don't stick to the textured walls of old structures when the sun shines overhead.

Coffman wanted to be finished with this project by July. She'd planned to complete the mural in the spring, when the weather was cooler. But the Cornavirus Pandemic had other plans, setting her back for several weeks.

"I got permission from the city to come out and start painting again," she says.

Other projects are picking back up for Coffman, too. At the start of the year she opened up a gallery in nearby Tonganoxie, Kan., to showcase her plein air art alongside other local painters. Her business was open for two months before shutting down temporarily.

At its reopening in late June, she and her featured artists chatted with guests browsing their work. Coffman pointed out to one visitor that an art gallery is a natural setting for social distancing.

"You're sort of keeping to yourself," she said. "And you're not touching anything.

Kathy Brecheisen, one of the painters displaying her work in Coffman's gallery, showcased her paintings of animals and desert flora to old friends who came to visit. She said she used the time at home to paint and reflect.

"I painted and painted and painted," she said. "The mind was very busy."

Coffman's brush is finding its stroke once again, dabbing away at the impressive mural every morning. She said it feels good to be working again.

"The whole idea about art for me is that people see it and it makes them happy," she said. "I just love what I do."


View some of Coffman's art here.

Follow the progress on her mural here.

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