HALLOWELL — Snared by the reconstruction of Water Street, the historic, brick-clad downtown watched industrial fences go up to separate pedestrians and workers.
In an effort to jazz them up, artists and Hallowell Board of Trade committee members adorned them with murals aimed at breathing life back into the business district. Deborah Fahy, Harlow Gallery executive director and chairwoman of the Hallowell Arts and Cultural Committee, spearheaded the project.
One of the initiatives of the Down with the Crown Committee tasked with promoting Water Street businesses during construction, the initiative kicked off in April with about 30 people painting murals at a “Paint-In” at the Harlow Gallery.
Nancy Bischoff, a member of the Down with the Crown committee, said there are about 100 murals in the committee’s possession. The number of murals on the fence, which runs along most of one side of Water Street, fluctuates because they need to be put back up when the fence is moved.
“They’re just fun,” Bischoff said Thursday as she hung a mural depicting the sun at the corner of Central and Water streets.
The murals don’t follow a precise theme, but the different works create a patchwork of art that extends down the length of Water Street. Some read “Welcome to Hallowell” and “keep Hallowell funky,” while others allude to unique aspects of the community. One such mural depicts long, green fish leaping from the water like sturgeon often do in the nearby Kennebec River. Another recreates Van Gogh’s Starry Night with Hallowell’s cityscape, complete with the customary bright-colored chairs on the bulkhead.
Fahy painted one mural herself — a take on a vintage advertisement for a photo studio that used to be on the corner of Union and Water streets. The mural was sitting at that corner, but the mural has since been taken down because work is being done there.
The project was approved by the Maine Department of Transportation, and Maine DOT Project Resident Karen Libby said the murals have added an artistic flare to the Water Street project that she hasn’t seen in other Maine municipalities.
“I think it’s brought people into town to look at them,” she said.
Any boost is welcomed by downtown businesses who have struggled to cope with the reduced traffic and parking related to construction. Boynton’s Market owner Don LaChance told the Kennebec Journal earlier this month that he has not taken a salary this year to keep the business open.
“It’s a sacrifice but it’s what we have to do to stay open,” Lachance said.
Bischoff said the promotion has drawn participation from downtown and out-of-town businesses, as well as professional artists and children.
Libby said the murals used to be hung on the working side of the fence, rather than the sidewalk side. She said some pedestrians were walking into the construction zone to view them.
“For safety reasons, we couldn’t have people on that side,” Libby said.
While construction workers may not, traditionally, be seasoned art critics, she said the crews talk about the murals while they are working.
“The boys always look at them,” Libby said. “We had brought a bunch in this morning and the guys, as they were lugging them in, they were saying which ones they like the best.
“I said, ‘Well, you know, they’re going to have the auction,’” she added.
The murals will be taken down and auctioned online near close of construction, which is anticipated to be in November. The proceeds, Fahy said, will go to the Arts and Cultural Committee and to the Harlow Gallery, and will be used to future arts and cultural projects in Hallowell.
As for the construction, according to a MDOT update for Aug. 31, Water Street and Temple Street were being paved, and sidewalks were being excavated along Water Street.
Sam Shepherd — 621-5666
Many murals hang on the fence this weekend on Water Street in Hallowell. (Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal)
Some of the murals that hang on the fence on Water Street in Hallowell. (Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal)