ROCKLAND—The potential for art was always there; they just needed a mighty big canvas.
For a long time, the brick side-wall of the Grasshopper Shop's building on School Street has just been an innocuous part of the downtown landscape. That was about to change this summer.
After collaborating together on the 2015 Oak Street project, Rockland artist and educator Alexis Iammarino worked with the Farnsworth Art Museum's Education Department to lead another giant mural on the School Street building's 15 by 74-foot wall.
"This community project came together through a series of connections and conversations started by Kelly and Vas at the Farnsworth and my involvement in mural arts projects with local youth over the past five years," Iammarino said.
They partnered with Sierra and Johanna Dietz, owners of the Grasshopper Shop, after the Farnsworth's Education Department was awarded a Challenge America from the National Endowment for the Arts to create it.
"The heart of this project is that it was a free mural arts program offered to the community and youth, to create it," she said. "I designed it remotely with visiting artist Melissa Luk, then we gathered a number of local artists and student artists to assist, including Andrew White and Sarah Rogers."
Melissa Luk is a Canadian-born mural artist, who has created mural projects on multiple continents, most recently in the West African nation of Gabon.
Iammarino, a mural director and designer for a year-round mural program she leads for an Adult and Community Ed's after school program is called, Arts in Action, then engaged several RSU 13 students (some of whom have created multiple original murals of their own) and the number of volunteers on the project grew from there.
“A total of 42 local artists and volunteers of all ages volunteered, the youngest of which was four and the oldest, 80,” she said.“Thirteen students artists from local elementary, middle and high schools were among them and many of the volunteers averaged between 12-15 hours painting it while others spent as many as 20 and 30 hours.”
“As Sierra, Johanna, the Museum Education staff, Melissa and I began to imagine what imagery could fit the best with a harbor town, we decided to celebrate Rockland’s position on the waterfront, imagery of Penobscot Bay and the diversity of marine life. It was intended to be happy, colorful— an expression of joy and feeling of playfulness or ‘young thinking’— that was a word used quite a bit.”
The whole purpose was not just to paint a mural, but to teach students the finer points of mural design and execution.
“Students assisted us in transferring the design onto the wall, using stencils and gridding up the wall to scale our art to the size needed.” she said. “The central motif in the center panel were these hanging buoys and we left each buoy blank so the students could put their individual creativity into it, adding the pattern and designs. It gave them a chance to work with assistant artists and our visiting artist Melissa and to learn from their technique.”
The mural’s final dimensions (including painting the back of the building wrap-around) totals 94 feet in length. After a month of painting on the block, “Watertown" — a name put forth the by the building owners — came to life.
The finished result was officially unveiled on the First Friday Art Walk of September 1 from 5:30 to 7 p.m., on School Street, between Main and Union streets, with a public remarks scheduled for 6 p.m.
The mural is up indefinitely so many people who live and visit Rockland will get the chance to see the inspiration behind the work for years to come.
For more information on this project, visit farnsworthmuseum.org