Public Art, Your Art: The Mark Twain Murals
By Jim Piotrowski, Contributing Writer
Shrewsbury – Mark Twain was one of the United States’ most popular and prolific writers. In 2013, Ellen Dolan, director of the Shrewsbury Public Library, collaborated with the Artist Guild of Shrewsbury to honor his most famous book, “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.” The collaboration was undertaken to commemorate the Big Read Project, a Shrewsbury-wide reading initiative that highlighted the Mark Twain book.
The Big Read received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Friends of Shrewsbury Public Library, whose focus is to restore reading as a priority to children, teens, and adults alike. The result was the four acrylic murals on display at the Memory Place Courtyard at the library. The murals, painted on 4 x 4-foot panels, depict the most memorable scenes from the book.
Guild artists Marjorie Needels painted Tom and Becky Thatcher lost in the cave; Cynthia Staub depicted Tom, Huck Finn, and Joe Harper rafting the Mississippi River at night; Robert Wilson and Pamela Haynes created a mélange of well-known images; and Mary Dunn captured the classic whitewashing of Aunt Polly’s fence. Each composition was drawn on
one of the four wooden panels using pencils and overhead projectors to enlarge the pictures.
Robert Wilson recently shared that he also set up meetings with Joshua Winer, an award-winning muralist, to research which kinds of paint, wood, waterproofing, and varnish would ensure that the murals would survive outside in all types of New England weather.
In order to accomplish this, special acrylic paints needed to be used. The work began in February 2013, and once painted, they were sent to Skip Colby, a Shrewsbury resident and contractor, to be framed. Colby made sure the frames, varnish and waterproofing would protect the murals for many years.
The works were unveiled at a ceremony at the library in October 2013 and are as eye-catching today as they were on the day they were installed.
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