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Colorful career for carnival ride painter

Painter Mike Colvin takes a break from painting the Pirate Ship ride at the Greater Grand Forks Fair during opening day Wednesday afternoon. Colvin, originally from Sedalia, Missouri, has been traveling with the fair painting rides for over a decade. 1 / 3
Painter Mike Colvin looks back at passers-by Wednesday afternoon while repainting the Pirate Ship ride at the Greater Grand Forks Fair. 2 / 3
The Midway at the Greater Grand Forks Fair lights up at dusk Wednesday for the first time in 2014. The fair will be in town until Sunday and features a variety of rides, games and live entertainment. 3 / 3

Walking through the Greater Grand Forks Fair, the smells in the air changes every few feet, from freshly baked cookies and funnel cake to hot dogs and mini doughnuts.

Strolling past the Gravitron and the Ferris wheel, another smell becomes apparent: wet paint.

In front of the pirate ship ride, sitting on a metal, paint-splattered chair, is Mike Colvin, with shorts, grey hair and bright blue eyes.

Colvin, 72, originally from Los Angeles but currently live in Sedalia, Mo., is a well-traveled man.

He got an itch for art while watching a fellow student at a high school paint banners for students running for student government. Later, Colvin’s interest grew into a profession, taking him from the inside of the Superdome in New Orleans to the outside of generators at the Missouri State Fair.

“I paint for a living. I’ll go anywhere and paint anything,” said Colvin, who was hired by Reed Expositions to paint carnival rides at the fair this year.

“I don’t smoke, I don’t drink, I just paint,” he said.

Though he will do any sort of painting, Colvin said painting murals is his favorite.

This isn’t Colvin’s first time at the Greater Grand Forks fair. He was in Grand Forks painting rides roughly 10 years ago.

“He’s painted many carnival pieces,” said Cathy Murphy of Murphy Brother’s Expositions, “I remember he painted a big scene on the side of the German funhouse and horses on the merry-go-round last time he was here. He’s very artistic and does great work.”

This year, Colvin’s main project was to convert the tugboat ride into a Lego-themed pirate ship. He painted on skulls and Lego people, all by hand.

“Not many people paint rides anymore, they use those sticker things now,” said Colvin. Stickers may be an easy way to get a ride looking up-to-date, but Murphy said adding the personal touch of having it painted by hand adds to the feel of the fair.

“It’s old fashioned, but it looks good,” said Murphy.