When he first moved to Granville, Ryan McGuire walked down Broadway with a jingle accompanying each step.
With his Cheshire cat smile, bells fastened to his shoes, and his toddler, Bella, perched on his hip, each step was a celebration of his daughter’s nickname — Bells.
That’s how Kim Keethler Ball, 61, remembers first seeing McGuire, and instantly, she knew he “was a bright light.”
Keethler Ball is the owner of the village’s Readers’ Garden bookstore, a village council member, and, most recently, McGuire’s business partner at the Granville Center for the Arts and co-creator of the Art Walk on Broadway.
“I felt very drawn to [him],” Keethler Ball said. “I was curious to know what he’s all about.”
Most people who see McGuire these days are curious, too — particularly when he is spotted around town in his memorable multicolor baseball hat topped with a spinning propeller.
McGuire, 41, is a contemporary visual and public artist from Ithaca, New York. He relocated to Granville with his wife, Susan Villarreal, a biology professor at Denison University, and their daughter in June 2019 after living in Ithaca and Grinnell, Iowa.
A week after moving in, McGuire’s family drove his banana-yellow, bug-eyed “Monster Truck” in the Granville Fourth of July parade, and won best in show for their new neighborhood.
McGuire has instilled creativity in every town he’s lived in, and Granville is no different.
His art installations and projects like the “Smile Phone,” “Monster Truck” and his “Dinocar,” have brought joy, silly jokes, and a sense of whimsy to the village, particularly during long stretches of COVID-19-related shutdowns.
The “Smile Phone,” outside the Kinetic Telephone building on Broadway, replaced a broken down phone booth that had been empty for over a decade – part of McGuire’s philosophy to use public art to “fix something that has been forgotten and fallen into disarray,” he said.
The new “phone” is solar-powered, painted McGuire’s signature shade of “happy yellow” and equipped with 10 automated, uplifting messages he recorded.
“What do you call a magic dog?” McGuire’s voice asks through the speaker on the old-school pay phone. “A labracadabrador!”
Instead of building a new, working phone booth — which likely would not be used in contemporary society — McGuire created an interactive, mood-boosting piece.
“We drive past it every day, and kids line up to use it,” he said. “I think they need the mental health boost.”
His installations are featured around the village, as well as in Grinnell and Ithaca. But his work co-creating the Granville Center for the Arts may have a broader impact than any installation.
McGuire and Keethler Ball spearheaded the project at 119 W. Broadway, which officially opened its doors in 2023.
The center offers residents a plethora of events, book clubs, ukulele classes, artist exhibitions and more.
“It’s a lot of fun, and not something we have a lot of, so it’s fresh,” Keethler Ball said from behind a chalkboard sign at her bookstore on Prospect Street, where she sketched a Halloween message. “When we do something new, there’s no overlap, so it adds something new to the village.”
Keethler Ball scanned her calligraphy from behind her large, turquoise glasses frames, and said McGuire is the perfect partner for the nonprofit: While McGuire handles the art, creativity, and hands-on aspects, Keethler Ball handles the administrative work, connecting McGuire to residents who could help with his mission.
“Being a part of what he’s a part of makes me so happy, and fills me with joy,” Keethler Ball said. “Ryan will get whatever it is done quickly.”
Despite his many accomplishments, McGuire describes himself as a quitter. However, his philosophy on quitting is not in a negative way, as society may view it.
“There’s not enough time to keep on keeping on,” McGuire explained. “I’ve quit everything. I’m like the greatest quitter ever, but I’m also the best starter. You have to be good at both.”
“You have to quit to be able to try [something new],” he added.
Each month, McGuire hosts a poetry slam at the Center for the Arts. His voice booming across the room, he shares his poetry, emcees the event, and calls for everyone to participate.
From seasoned poets to beginners, anyone is welcome, he said.
Lauren Ehlers, 21, is in her senior year at Denison University and is an English Writing major.
Originally from Chicago, Illinois, Ehlers lived in Granville this past summer and attended a poetry slam at the center.
“He is someone genuinely passionate about fostering a creative environment,” Ehlers said, curling her dark hair behind her ear. “It’s obvious he does this for the community, but also for himself. It’s a mutual benefit.”
McGuire’s daughter Bella, now 5, inspires him to pursue a more creative life, and he now has two companies named after her: Bells Designs and Bella’s Beans.
Bells Designs “provides creative and design services to amazing businesses that are looking to create iconic brands and memorable impressions,” McGuire said, while Bella’s Beans are “small-batch coffee roasters … roasted to order and delivered anywhere in Ohio.”
Those beans, too, show up in happy yellow containers.
With his side businesses, he can display all of his public art free, which is most important to him.
His most strenuous projects — his remodeled cars — are among his most visible.
“When I drive these cars, it’s like I’m in a parade,” he explained. “People wave at me on the roads, laugh from the sidewalk, and take pictures of me while I fill my gas tank.”
His cars, including his yellow pickup truck decorated with 3D, protruding purple spots, pearly white teeth, and large eyes on the roof, his old Volkswagen bug “dinocar,” and his three “spaceship” cars, were made just for his own joy, McGuire explained.
“Who cares” about the resale value, he asked. “Children say, ‘Wow, you don’t have to be serious all the time?’ What more could I need?”
McGuire offers others this challenge: Why not make something just for the joy of making it?
Brin Glass writes for TheReportingProject.org, the nonprofit news organization of Denison University’s journalism program, which is sponsored in part by the Mellon Foundation. [email protected]