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From a distance, you can hardly tell there are white pipes in front of the skinny, knotted birch trees Jeff George has painted onto the side of the RE/MAX building in Honesdale.
“Isn’t that clever?” assistant muralist Pauline Glykokokalos muses, as George stands back to look at how he’s made infrastructure blend in with the winter scene. From right to left along the 1,700-foot wall, spring greens, dandelions, crocuses and daffodils fade into green hills dotted with sheep and, eventually, to a Dick Smith winter wonderland. The four-season monument to the town greets train passengers and anyone coming from Route 191.
The message is clear, and not just because it’s written in bold lettering on the top right corner: Welcome to Honesdale.
Jeff George designed and headed the painting on this Welcome to Honesdale mural on the side of the RE/MAX building in Honesdale.
Murals are catching on in the Upper Delaware. The bee hive on the post office in Narrowsburg as well as the “Welcome to Honesdale” mural are two recently completed artistic additions to the river towns. George has produced several murals along Honesdale’s Main Street—colorful reminders of its history and character, which, just by virtue of existing, say something much greater about the town’s future.
A mural on the side of a building not only says “welcome to town!” but also “somebody cares about this place.”
That’s important. Especially in towns that have taken an economic hit in the last ten years.
“When you drive down a town that’s like a mile long, and you see four buildings on every other block, it looks crummy,” said Paul Venditti, a local artist who started painting murals on the side of boarded-up buildings in Forest City, PA several years ago. “It’s only as crummy as we want to make it.”
Venditti grew up in New Jersey, and remembers seeing murals and street art on underpasses and bridges. After spending time in Forest City, he started to think about what would make him happier to see there. “So, I went around putting up different flowers on buildings.”
Venditti has painted murals in Scranton, Forest City and Honesdale, mostly of nature scenes. On the side of the rental space, The Loft, facing the opposite direction of traffic on Main Street in Honesdale, he’s painted a large geometric design of poppies backed by black and white diamonds. “I have always tried to put nature back into cities,” he said. “And give people that, ‘Honey I Shrunk the Kids’ kind of feel.” Sunflowers he painted on the side of a building in Scranton have inspired Instagram-posed photos, and even a letter to the editor of a nearby paper.
"A woman wrote in to the editor and was referencing how she finds it symbolic to the town, like ‘These are flowers that never die in the winter,’” Venditti explained. She went on to make the comparison to Scranton’s endurance. “We’re not going to die from the economic winter we’re going through.’”
Venditti didn’t plan for that interpretation. That's part of the beauty.
The Mexican painter Diego Rivera—known for his largescale art—considered murals the highest form of art because they are accessible to the common man.
George and Glykokokalos designed the “Welcome to Honesdale” mural for engagement. Small details on the wall that you can’t see clearly from far away—a rooster standing in a field or a tiny brown rabbit—will be part of a search-and-find game for kids visiting the Meagher’s building with their parents.
The artists themselves have been surprised by the public’s engagement with the work they’ve done around Honesdale, which also includes the “Wayne County Grown” mural on the side of Here & Now Brewing Company and the poster collage on the side of the office building. People started taking photos of the “Welcome to Honesdale” mural while it was still just that sentence.
In an endearing mural moment, the farm scene replete with cows and rolling green fields on the side of Here & Now was the backdrop of a wedding last summer. That mural also features in the beginning of the WBRE-TV news hour, George added.
“It’s nice to be an ambassador to the town,” George said.
In this way, murals not only take the shape of their environment, but become the environment visualized—a way for a place to communicate itself. (We wouldn’t be so familiar with the Sistine Chapel if not for Michaelangelo, right?)
Eventually, the art become parts of the landscape. Just as George and Glykokokalos were starting the “Welcome to Honesdale” painting, a woman explained to them that she had used their art as a point of reference while giving directions. “The mural is a landmark,” Glykokokalos said. “That’s really something.”
Muralists, moreso than other artists, have to think about the physical elements in which they’re creating. What kind of weather will the paint (and painter) have to endure? What surface is the artist working on and what challenges might that bring? George, like many muralists, makes use of a projector.
Venditti and Canaltown’s Derek Williams had to get inventive in coming up with a way to outline the geometric pattern on the high wall of the loft building. “I actually had Derek on the roof, hanging down a rope with a piece of cardboard. And these are all proportionate: eight by eight, six by six, three by three, so he would hang it and then I would mark the edge of the thing and cut it down to the next one.” (It helps that Venditti is an engineer by trade.)
Ultimately, a well-done mural, with the right UV protection and high-quality paint, can last for years. A permanent imprint of how a town expressed itself at one point in time. Proof that its people were proud to be here, which we should be, says Paul Meagher, who commissioned George’s work for the broad side of his building.
“We wanted something that would be attractive, and,” he added, “would show people that our community is alive.”
Find Paul’s work at unnaturalnature.org, Jeff’s at @JeffGeorgeDesign on Facebook and Pauline at paperskaper.com.