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'Who is she?' Coonalpyn schoolgirl Guido van Helten's first silo mural subject

Coonalpyn silo girl
Artist Guido van Helten works on his first Coonalpyn silo subject.

ABC South East SA: Kate Hill

Watching paint dry has become Coonalpyn's most popular pastime as residents and passers-by watch South Australia's most anticipated public artwork take form.

This week, thousands have stopped in the small south-east town to catch a glimpse of renowned artist Guido van Helten working his magic on the town's towering grain silos, with many wondering who his first subject is.

But the identity of the local schoolgirl, with a lock of hair in her mouth and downcast eyes, rapidly appearing on the silos is being kept under wraps, said Coorong District Council's Nat Traeger.

"We want to keep up the mystery and intrigue and are going to reveal the subjects one at a time," she said.

Ms Traeger said keeping the girl's identity secret in a Facebook-obsessed world was hard and local schoolkids in the know were fairly busting to let the cat out of the bag.

Rainbow over Coonalpyn silos
Morning glory: a brief rainbow behind Coonalpyn's silo mural.

ABC South East SA: Kate Hill

Riding high on a cherry-picker, van Helten works each day long after the light fades, seemingly impervious to the attention he is generating.

"He doesn't bat an eyelid when the trucks toot at him," Tania Stanfield said, watching from her newly-opened business, aptly named the Coonalpyn Silo Cafe.

Directly across the road from the mural, the cafe is starting to feel the benefit of the steady stream of onlookers.

In fact, there have been so many drivers pulling over on Dukes Highway to watch the project unfold that Coorong District Council has had to approach authorities to put in a traffic management plan.

A delighted Ms Traeger said Coonalpyn was 'absolutely bustling'.

"There are cameras out everywhere and the community is very excited," she said.

Fred and Guido sharing the story

One of the most keen observers of van Helten's work is 73-year-old Fred Deeks, who has set up camp in Coonalpyn and declared he will be there until "the very last brushstroke".

Fred Deeks watches Guido
Retiree Fred Deeks plans on watching Guido work 'until the last brushstroke'.

ABC South East SA: Kate Hill

The retired truck driver from Mannum first saw the artist's now-famous Brim silo project and said he had been avidly following his work ever since.

"The way he can work on those massive structures, up about 100 feet high, and keep it in perfect perspective all the way down, from top to bottom, is just incredible," Mr Deeks said.

"You might sit there for two hours and there doesn't seem to be anything at all, just the odd stroke here and there.

With a camp chair and his camera set up on a tripod, Mr Deeks sits for entire days quietly watching and recording van Helten's work, and has become a bit of a town celebrity himself.

"He is becoming quite the local legend," said Ms Traeger, who shares Mr Deeks's photographs each night on the council's social media, giving the world a look at van Helten's daily progress.

Fred Deeks in Coonalpyn
"I'm intrigued." Mannum retiree Fred Deeks is camped out in Coonalpyn, watching the silo project unfold.

ABC South East SA: Kate Hill

Now the artist and retiree have become fast friends, often sharing dinner and a chat in the evenings.

Staying in the same caravan park, van Helten delivers a gentle tap on Mr Deek's tent in the morning to let him know he is off to work for the day.

An early start with the sunrise on Wednesday paid dividends for Mr Deeks — a full rainbow illuminating the mural for the briefest of moments.

"That is incredible," he declared, his face lighting up as he grabbed his camera.

"Look at that! I can't wait to show that to Guido."

Artist becomes a 'local'

Dukes Highway silo project
Drivers on the busy Dukes Highway are watching the project unfold.

ABC South East SA: Kate Hill

Ms Traeger said she and the council were delighted with the impact the project was already generating, with much of the interest surrounding who and what would be immortalised next.

She said the final concept was still under wraps and a grand reveal of the subjects, including the young girl, would occur in late February.

Meanwhile van Helten, with his quiet ways, has clearly won over the locals.

"Guido is one of the the most down-to-earth gentlemen who has no idea of the impact he is making on this town," Ms Traeger said.

"He has gone to the local cricket match and he's at the pub, and out getting to know people.

"I think he has even been out and seen his first sheep shearing as well."