UnconVENTional Mural Unveiled in CenterOct 27, 2020 11:12AM ● By Sean Sullivan
We’re all perpetually bedeviled by some item or two on our personal to-do list.
Cleaning out a car or clogged gutters. Weatherizing the house against encroaching winter. These are nagging itches, triggered when we see the mess, the un-mowed lawn, the email inbox stretching its digital seams.
Such things can occupy our headspace like squatters, living there rent-free until we sweep them out in a fit and flurry of productivity. Putting off until tomorrow what can be done today is a peculiar peccadillo, one seemingly specific to our species. And writing on it brings to mind a poem on the subject.
It hits three times, this procrastination!
First, in causing so much consternation
The second in sullying one’s reputation
And lastly in the act of self-flagellation
For artists and creative types, that to-do list is also populated with ideas that must be expressed, a folder of work that wants to get out into the world. And like an unpainted fence or unkempt living space, the dull disappointment of things undone darken our thoughts when we glimpse the dry paint brushes, clay stored in saran wrap, a blank computer screen. The empty canvas.
The final, finished product of these creative impulses is often unknown, and this can layer a veneer of vexing uncertainty and trepidation over a process already piqued by procrastination.
But maybe that’s just me.
From the vantage point of her studio entrance overlooking Adams Street, Ginger McEachern often found herself in some semblance of this state of being. Upon that landing before descending a few steps to street level, the Natick artist had been constantly confronted with a certain item on her artistic to-do list.
In the shade of relative seclusion, Adams Street is a one-way byway seemingly from another era, largely unchanged from its original form. With minimal digital editing, one might shoot a scene of 1950s noir between its high, red-bricked facades. Windows connected by a zigzagging network of black, metal fire escapes suggest a West Side Story set.
The street has for many years sustained the unseen, unsung (but essential) busywork of business. There, the deliveries, maintenance and trash collection for a variety of small shops and restaurants commence largely out of sight of passersby.
And so the large, metal air exchange vent on Adams Street’s south end seemed to fit right in. A necessity, yes, but a thing better situated out of sight. Yet McEachern saw it, some something in it. A secondary potential.
As most artists might attest, it’s often not easy to see the overlooked possibility within things banal, to envision the diamond in the rough. Though once that thing is seen, it’s nearly impossible to put out of mind. It gets copied and pasted onto the creative to-do list, those unexpected glimpses of the thing reminders of what needs to be done - of what could be.
Just so, the inconspicuous vent that once blended into its brick backdrop became a beacon that might beckon from across the street whenever McEachern exited her studio. The unit emerges from the backside base of the building, rising about ten feet against the brickwork before inverting in a downward scoop.
“I had thought about painting that vent for years,” said McEachern.
She applied for and was awarded a grant from the town and theNatick Center Cultural District last year, and also secured permission from the building’s owner, who also owns Fair & Yeager Insurance Agency. McEachern began painting in July of 2019.
The mural mimics and complements the concept of public art that’s been adopted elsewhere in the town, like the painting of electrical boxes and other such mundane municipal minutiae situated throughout Natick. For those works of art on town property, permission must be obtained from the Board of Selectmen.
McEachern also co-owns and operates Five Crows, a Natick shop that sells the work of local artists and artisans. That business, along with her own artistic endeavors, uncooperative New England weather, road work and adjacent building construction all conspired to stretch the new Adams Street mural into more than a year-long project.
“It’s taken a lot longer than it probably would have. It was a huge learning process. I just kept plugging along.”
Titled “The UnconVENTional Garden,” the mural is a flourish of plants and flowers native to Massachusetts, and is rendered using conventional, water-based, exterior house paint.
On a warm and sun-soaked Wednesday last month, when turning autumn foliage began mirroring the vivid petals of McEachern’s mural, the artist balanced on a step ladder, paintbrush in hand. A few protective coats of varnish had been applied and long since dried, and McEachern was brushing on a final, special finish.
While the underlying varnish sealed the artwork from sun and rain, the topcoat acts a guard against graffiti. If the mural comes to be marred in that way, the top coat can be removed, and the uninvited graffiti along with it.
During those many hours working on the mural, McEachern recalled more than a few interested onlookers who’d been pulled onto Adams Street to watch and learn more about the project and its process.
“I’ve had the most wonderful conversations with people. It’s been really interesting.”
The once-unassuming vent now blooms with flowers from McEachern’s imagination, paint brush and meticulous work. Like the red rose emerging from Ben E. King’s Spanish Harlem, rising in the street, right up through the concrete.
In this era when people are encouraged to spend more time outdoors, more thought and imagination is being given and applied to those surroundings.
“There will definitely be more public art in 2021,” said McEachern.
An official dedication for the piece will be held at 1pm on Adams Street, Saturday, Nov. 7.