The big week is finally here, the week of the Bricks and Murals festival here in downtown Westerly and Pawcatuck! The event kicked off on Wednesday evening with a reception for the visiting artists and community volunteers and will be followed by a food stroll and block party Thursday night, all along High Street.
This festival has been years in the making but in these last few weeks, things have really started come together. “We have 175 volunteers, which is outstanding and really shows that the community is coming together,” Marketing Committee Co-Chair Fred Paretta explained, adding that there has been greater enthusiasm, more attention, and a better understanding of what they’re doing and the impact that this project is going to have as the festival has gotten closer. “We already have great restaurants, activities, and night life, now we’re beautifying the area to help make Westerly and Pawcatuck an even stronger destination.”
Esther Halferty and Paul Halferty live in Pawcatuck and are ceramic artists who own Lilywork Tiles together and are hoping to volunteer on the much sought-after Hurricane of 1938 mural, or on the steamboat mural. “We’re planning to get here early to hopefully get a spot,” Paul said. “We’ll see what happens.”
These murals are of particular interest to them because of the nature of their artwork. “We play with different shapes and textures and are very inspired by our area,” Esther shared. “So the hurricane or the steamship would both tie in well with our work.”
The Halferty’s say they started hearing buzz about the festival starting all the way back last winter, and they’re very excited that the time has finally arrived. “Just seeing the mix of people coming in and coming together, all the different license plates that have arrived, is wonderful for the area,” Esther said.
Russell Kelly came all the way from Toronto to be a project leader for the Knickerbocker mural and is very excited to be able to paint the history of the club and share its story. “The club opened in 1933 and it’s fascinating place, truly a mecca for talent from all genres,” he shared. “Everyone played here over the years, from big band to crooners to blues, Leon Russell and Stevie Ray Vaughan – all these artists had their humble beginnings here.”
Russell will be working with Sonny Franks from Atlanta and Eric Skinner, a fellow Canadian, on the Knickerbocker mural. Theirs is the largest wall of the 14 being painted this week, measuring 114′ wide by 20′ high. “There are a lot of artists and community members who want to sling paint, and we have a very conducive space for that without compromising the integrity of the mural, given its size,” he explained.
Like the Halferty’s, Russell knows what an impact this festival will have on the two towns this week and for years to come. “It’s great to watch what happens in the community, neighbors get together behind the project who might not have had much in common before,” he reflected. “Then we leave this behind, this legacy that we’re proud of as artists but as community members they are just as proud of it, if not more so. They made it happen, we just swung the brushes.”
John Tedeschi and Chris Kelly are the project leaders for the Italian heritage mural, which will be consist of four 6′ x 9.5′ panels focusing on gardening, wine, soppressata, and homemade family dinners.
John has been working for the district for 16 years and is the district’s Fine Arts Department Head; this is his 6th year teaching art at Westerly High School. He’s also the Rhode Island Art Educator of the Year for 2017. Chris is in his 5th year for the district and 4th year at the high school. Together they teach Advanced Drawing and Painting and AP Studio Art, and they’ll be bringing along 25-30 of these high schoolers along to become the first group of student Walldogs.
“This is the experience of a lifetime,” John said. “They’ll be leaving their mark on the walls for many years to come, and getting to meet and talk with artists will be an invaluable experience.” Chris agreed, and added that he thinks this is a wonderful teaching opportunity as well. “They’re learning how to approach a challenge of this magnitude,” he explained.
Brigitte Hopkins, Executive Director of the Westerly Public Library, is in charge of the festival’s programs for children and families. “We planned the activities around the themes of the murals,” Brigette explained. “We want this week to be a family event and to make sure that kids can get something hands-on so they’ll actually want to attend and then we can educate them at the same time.”
Families will have a variety of options for activities, ranging from a trackless train in honor of the railroad mural, gardening in egg cartons for the Italian heritage mural, sponge boats for the steamboat mural, and the very timely disaster preparedness program in honor of the hurricane mural.
The youngest among us will also have a chance to become mini Walldogs themselves by participating in the paint-by-number mural in the library staff’s parking lot – the images are from a 1981 Westerly coloring book and will be visible from High Street.
Kids, students, professional artists and novices, international visitors, local volunteers – Bricks and Murals is ultimately about bringing people together for the sake of community, camaraderie, and history. They’re only one official day in, and they’re already succeeding. Be sure to join in on the festivities this week; start tonight with the block party and food stroll beginning at 5pm – click here for the details!