Every piece counts in Eric Dowdle's new South Jordan puzzle mural

Folk artist and puzzlemaker Eric Dowdle unveils his new puzzle mural at Heritage Park in South Jordan.

Folk artist and puzzlemaker Eric Dowdle unveils his new puzzle mural at Heritage Park in South Jordan. (Emma Everett Johnson, KSL.com)


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SOUTH JORDAN — A crowd of avid puzzlers and South Jordanites gathered in a corner of Heritage Park on Friday afternoon, waving miniature American flags and waiting for artist Eric Dowdle to drop the curtain on his latest project.

A small battalion of American Folk Ensemble dancers squatted at the ready with confetti poppers, and the crowd started counting down for the big reveal.

When the curtain fell, some were surprised to see themselves in Dowdle's puzzle mural — a "Where's Waldo"-esque tribute to South Jordan.

American Folk Ensemble dancers pop confetti as Eric Dowdle drops the curtain on his latest mural in South Jordan's Heritage Park.
American Folk Ensemble dancers pop confetti as Eric Dowdle drops the curtain on his latest mural in South Jordan's Heritage Park. (Photo: Emma Everett Johnson, KSL.com)

"Eric married the history of South Jordan and what we are today into one piece," Mayor Dawn Ramsey said.

Dowdle, a puzzlemaker and folk artist based in Lindon, has been painting towns across the world for more than 30 years. He has hosted TV and radio programs about his work and sold millions of puzzles.

His philosophy is that each piece in a puzzle — and each person in a community — matters. When you look at one of his paintings, it shows.

Dowdle paintings are full of Easter eggs. Doing one of his puzzles requires two levels of decoding — one to put the pieces together and one to figure out what the pieces mean.

In his South Jordan mural, you'll see Fire Chief Chris Dawson driving a firetruck and City Manager Dustin Lewis "rucking" along the riverbed. City Councilman Jason McGuire sits on a plastic frog at South Jordan's all-abilities park. Mabel Holt Nelson, known to the community as "Aunt Mame," rocks on her porch with a bucket of popcorn.

The mural also captures some of the city's history, depicting iconic elements like the SoJo Summerfest, the snow plow in the city parade and the 1938 bus accident that spurred changes in national bus laws.

And in the massive painting, there's room for a little silliness. Dowdle included Jesus eating a slice of pizza and the pair of farmers from "American Gothic" as an homage to the city's agricultural roots.

When Dowdle fan Donna Terry moved to South Jordan 25 years ago, she thought of it as a small farming community. She's seen the city evolve since then, and she thinks Dowdle's painting captures that evolution.

"I was impressed that he got all three temples in there," Terry said. The painting is anchored by the Jordan River and Oquirrh Mountain temples of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint and the Sri Ganesha Hindu temple.

Terry planned to buy the South Jordan puzzle, which is available for purchase at South Jordan City Hall, Fire Station 64 and Mulligans Golf and Games.

The South Jordan mural and puzzle aren't a one-off thing — they're part of a nationwide project Dowdle is undertaking ahead of America's 250th birthday in 2026. He's aiming to paint at least two city murals in each of the 50 states to celebrate.

Giving the country a proper birthday party isn't just a nice idea, it's something Americans really need, he said.

Dowdle first reached out to Congress about his proposed 250th anniversary project in 2011, but they hadn't started discussing anniversary plans yet. In 2016, Congress invited the nation to submit ideas for the anniversary — Dowdle was the only person in the entire country who did.

"A lot of people want to focus on the negative, but it's a birthday party," Dowdle said.

Instead of dwelling on past mistakes, Dowdle wants people to see positive changes from the nation's last 250 years. As Americans, "we fix things," he said. This change in attitude starts on a community level.

Some Americans might not think their community is very special — "We're just a drive-through town" — but Dowdle wants to prove them wrong.

As he pointed at each person in his newest mural, he told their story and then turned to the crowd to cheer, "That's what makes South Jordan … Amazing!"

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Emma Everett Johnson covers Utah as a general news reporter. She is a graduate of Brigham Young University.

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