Though not quite Philadelphia, considered by some as the “mural capital of the world,” New Haven is seeing a flowering of the ages-old form of visual communication, community engagement, education, and storytelling on its buildings.
In the space of several days last week, murals in at least four locations across New Haven were completed through independent initiatives, or their upcoming dedication dates announced:
Cold Spring School Mural with Megan Craig
In the “Pear Tree Yard” on the grounds of Cold Spring School, a progressive independent school serving children from preschool to sixth grade at Chapel and James streets, students gathered for a ribbon cutting and celebration of their recently completed three-story mural, Salt Marsh Wall, a project that enlisted painterly participation by a large number of students.
The words “joyful learning” in bold lettering on the back of a seated student’s T-shirt during the ribbon cutting, expressed the spirit of the occasion and the collaborative, interdisciplinary aspect of the mural, which combined the arts with the curricular pursuits of Cold Spring’s fourth and fifth graders. The students had been studying the region’s ecosystem and native botanical specimens of the area’s salt marshes.
Project facilitator Megan Craig, a parent of two Cold Spring students, is an artist and associate professor of philosophy and art at Stony Brook University. She worked with the students for a month while on sabbatical, after brainstorming ideas with parents, staff, and students about what to paint on the 12 sealed window bays of the building rising above the Pear Tree grounds.
“I felt strongly that the wall, which faces out toward James Street, was a gesture toward the community living around the school, who see it every day,” said Craig.
School Director Arati Pandit said that students wrote about the salt marshes from the point of view of the small crustaceans living among plant species as part of the project, a creative undertaking that also included field trips to Grannis Island to study the salt marsh and its plant life. Cold Spring School itself is located on grounds that were once a salt marsh.
The mural’s celebration included a display of a handsome rack of 12 vases bearing sea lavender, phragmites, and the other ten plant specimens depicted in the towering mural.
Students who attended the ceremony were treated to edible, illustrated cookies baked by Sugar Cupcakes and Bakery of East Haven, each cookie depicting a different panel of the mural, as well as receiving handsome postcards of the work.
Working on a scissor lift, Craig painted the upper portions of the mural, while also taking time to work with students on the reachable lower windows. Steps included wall prep and priming, the painting of broad, wavy, horizontal strips of color, nighttime projection work and tracing of giant plant images, painting of the blue sky surrounding individual plants, adding fine details, and finishing with protective sealants.
Looking at the completed mural panels against a blue sky creates a sense of transparency, a strong visual feeling that the building’s brick facade is more like a Hollywood flat, allowing skyward views through each window shape.
Craig said that an educational field guide she helped create with teachers will soon be available to help students identify the plants depicted in the mural. In the meantime, visitors can stop by at 263 Chapel Street (back of building) to enjoy one of the newest additions to the civic landscape of purposeful mural making. A time lapse video of the mural’s creation was made by photographer Domingo Medina.
Craig will be appearing at this year’s City Wide Open Studio’s Alternative Space Weekend, at the Goffe Armory on October 15 and 16 with a “public, immersive, interactive performance and installation work about touch, intimacy and color” entitled “The Way Things Felt,” commissioned by Artspace.
Farmington Canal Greenway Mural By Kwadwo Adae
Last Friday, artist Kwadwo Adae did what he has done numerous times throughout the city in dipping his paint brush to sign off on another of his colorful, stylized murals. Rather than gracing the interiors of the many businesses and organizations throughout New Haven — including Marjolaine Pastry Shop, B-Natural Cafe, the former 9th Note music club, City Seed offices, and Mitchell Library — Adae has just completed his first exterior mural in New Haven, located on the Farmington Canal Greenway in Newhallville, adjacent the Starr Street canal line crossing.
Gingerly signing the mural with his left hand instead of his dominant right, which is presently impaired due to chronic inflammation from overuse, Adae said he has persevered and is completing another interior mural at Crown Street’s Mecha Noodle restaurant — an image of a green dragon.
Adae recently returned from a crowdfunded trip to Guatamala with a team that included Spanish translator Katie Jones, yoga instructor Khushi Malhotra, and filmmaker Sara Lasley who documented the journey and the painting of several outdoor murals completed at Lake Atitlán, Guatemala for La Biblioteca Puerta Abierta.
Adae’s Farmington Canal Greenway mural was sponsored by Neighborhood Housing Services, the Mayor’s Community Arts Grant program, the New Haven Department of Arts, Culture and Tourism, and several businesses, including a donation of paint by Sherwin Williams, and the work of up to 32 volunteers. The mural space, located on the side of a long garage wall, was donated by Shelton Avenue homeowner Calvin X. Nelson Jr. Adae said the mural also represents, in part, his gift and contribution to the Newhallville community.
The mural features three-legged runners jogging by a floral landscape with several New Haven landmarks in the background. Adae said he spent time observing the blur of runners as they passed the mural site and wanted to find a way to express their “locomotion.” Musical, sports, numerical, and other symbols worn by the runners are nods to New Haven’s eclectic cultural life. Flower heads bear the names of people and organizations that have contributed to the mural’s creation.
According to Maria Perez-Martinez, communications manager at Neighborhood Housing Services of New Haven (NHS), the mural “is a celebration of the Newhallville neighborhood’s renewal, including the positive relationships and healthy lifestyle options that exist there. The mural aims to raise awareness and spur interest in the trail as a means of healthy recreation and alternative transportation.” Adam Rawlings, also of NHS, noted that the mural is part of the ongoing revitalization and place making efforts that have been the mission of NHS for decades.
That mission dovetails with the work of New Haven Friends of the Farmington Canal Greenway, an organization “fostering stewardship and public safety along the New Haven section of the Farmington Canal Greenway” that has also partnered with NHS on mutual goals for the canal strip and surrounding neighborhoods, according to Aaron Goode of the Friends of Farmington Canal. Goode noted that part of the canal’s history includes the safe passage for former Amistad captives who were transported up the canal to Farmington, Ct. as part of the Freedom Trail, where they stayed while abolitionists raised money for their return to Sierra Leone.
The public is invited to an unveiling ceremony for the mural on Friday, October 7, at 2:30 pm on the Farmington Canal Greenway parallel to Shelton Avenue between Thompson and Starr Streets in Newhallville.
Ancestors Mural At Believe in Me Empowerment Corporation, Dixwell Avenue
In early June, artist Marquis Brantley and Katro Storm (with Shaunda Holloway) could be observed facilitating the painting of a community mural at the old Dixwell Q House, a structure that will soon make way for a new, state-of-the-art version.
Last Friday, Brantley and Storm, with brushes in hand, stood under the four graphic banners of African American leaders of the not-so-distant past that drape down the side of the Believe in Me Empowerment Corporation (BIMEC) building on Dixwell Avenue at the corner of Argyle Steet. The artists said their work over several weeks was, for the most part, a volunteer effort.
The “Homage to Ancestors” was created in part with the help of the youth served by the BIMEC. The mural is painted in predominantly pan-African colors of red, black, and green and imbued with the symbology of ancient Egypt and celestial constellations. A depiction of seven burning candles represent Kwanzaa’s seven core principles which are taught and fostered at BIMEC year round. The words African American are woven into the visual tapestry of symbols and bright color.
BIMEC, according to posted materials, “is dedicated to improving the lives of youth, young adults and their families. We work towards this mission through direct and indirect programming which provides housing, life skills, and counseling services for our program participants.” (Learn more about the agency here.) A dedication date for the mural has not yet been announced.
Mural On The Corsair Building, By Josh Griffin
In mid-June, the Corsair, a new luxury residential complex at 1050 State St., welcomed the public to view its largely interior collection of commissioned artworks by predominantly New Haven-area artists, related to the site’s historical contributions and manufacturing glory days.
In recent weeks, the company’s mission of arts support and place-making through the arts took another bold step with the addition of a new exterior mural painted on the north side of the Corsair site facing State Street and within view of an I-91 overpass. The idea of a postcard-like presentation was conceived by developer Andy Montelli working with muralist Josh Griffin, a young artist with a growing visual footprint in New Haven.
The impetus for the giant New Haven mural was both practical and aesthetic according to Montelli: “The city line between Hamden and New Haven is just very murky. It’s not easy to tell when you’ve arrived in New Haven. Coming down State Street you’re passing underneath all of these bridges. The minute you get through these bridges, our building is there—that wall is the first thing you see. We thought we’d put our foot down and say - ‘You’re in New Haven now. You may have thought you were in New Haven, but now you know.’ We were inspired by those old travel post cards, you know, ‘Greetings from Niagara Falls….’ It also gave us another chance to commission another piece of Street art that’s really kind of fun.”
In 2014, Griffin painted a monumental memorial tribute to the late son of Bregamos Community Theater founder Rafael Ramos for their first “Art from the Heart” festival held at Bregamos Community Theater. Griffin was also a contributing artist at the Site Projects sponsored Art in the Park Festival in Edgewood Park two years ago.
The ideas for the specific imagery of Griffin’s mural — in the style of a giant postcard, with illustrated block letters that spell out “New Haven,” was a collaborative effort. “But Josh did a great job of choosing and interpreting a variety of source images that represent the icons and history of New Haven,” said Corsair arts curator Aicha Woods.
“The mural,” according to Woods, “is a playful celebration of New Haven. It also is a smart and creative brand strategy that supports the arts and gives context and specificity to the project. It is already a favorite landmark!”
The grace and fluidity of the artist’s aerosol mastery was recently documented in a short video by Ian Applegate.
The mural had its official unveiling on Thursday as part of Corsair’s grand opening celebration. After a rooftop VIP reception, those who had a hand in helping transform the Corsair building from vision to reality, were invited to sign inside the large letter “n” that had been left conspicuously blank by the artist. A lively “Margaritaville” themed party followed in the building’s common-use areas.
Asked to weigh in on the emerging trend in new murals across New Haven, city arts czar Andrew Wolf acknowledged the important role of painted murals but gave some insights into the myriad forms of public art presently taking form in the city and the potential of contemporary media as a destination creator.
“I love the self-expression which historically has been achieved with paint on surfaces,” Wolf said. “Today with technology I believe that we can achieve a wonderful outcome.” He pointed to the Magellan Storage Tank facility at Long Wharf on East Street, on which artist Bayla Arietta pays tribute to the Peabody Museum as it celebrates its centennial. Robert Greenberg has a piece on New Haven throughout its history at the city’s Hall of Records at 200 Orange St.
“It is my fervent hope that soon the underpass leading to Union Station will be transformed by the art installation of Yale Art Professor Sheila de Bretteville,” Wolf continued. That project is proceeding under the auspices of Site Projects.
“So much about public art renews, restores and rejuvenates our respect for ideas, for artistic merit and for the aspirations we promote as a society and city,” Wolf said.