Paint The City Murals Popping Up All Over Hartford

Colorful murals are popping up all over Hartford: a huge image of a toothy-smiled little kid on a community center, a painted collage of city leaders on the side of a school, two mysterious women facing each other on the doors of a homeless shelter, an indigenous musician on a building facade in the northeast neighborhood.

The public artworks are the result of the project Hartford Paint the City. The project sent out a call for artists last year and then let members of the public choose which designs they liked the best for their own neighborhoods. Seven artists from Connecticut, two from Brooklyn, N.Y., and one from Florida, came up with the winning pieces. Installations, all on city-owned walls, began last fall.

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The murals, the result of a public vote, are the first phase in what is hoped to be a 14-mural project, says Jason Farquharson, creator and project lead for Hartford Paint the City, part of the public-improvement initiative Hartford Decide$. The project is financed with $128,000 in municipal funds, Farquharson says. Each artist is paid $6,500, he says.

Not all of the chosen murals are up yet. An image of jazz great Jackie McLean, painted by Sarah Warda of Newington on the side of the Achievement First School, is in progress. Humberto Castro-Cruz of Hartford made an artwork for Burns Elementary School in Frog Hollow, but it has not yet been installed. Georges Annan-Kingsley of Hartford also has created a yet-to-be-installed mural. Hartford Paint the City hopes to install murals in other neighborhoods, if appropriate locations are found and neighbors are supportive.

The muralists spoke about their work and their inspirations, and here’s what you can see so far.

Set Your Mind Free

Corey Pane’s mural, “Daydream Amid The Flowers,” is at Willie Ware Center at 679 Windsor St. in the Clay Arsenal area. The composition is mysterious. Images of a woman, sunflowers, a phonograph, a bird reading a Twain book, butterflies, a Grateful Dead album.

“I wanted it to be about imagination and setting your mind free, letting yourself be, not worrying about anything,” says the West Hartford artist. He enjoyed interacting with kids as he painted.

“They were hanging out asking me questions. They had never seen a phonograph. They had never heard of the Grateful Dead. They wanted to know what those things were.”

Thumb’s Up

Damien Mitchell created a cheerful image of a grinning, paper-hatted boy giving the thumb’s up. It’s the mural for the South End neighborhood, gracing the front of the Metzner Center at 680 Franklin Ave.

Mitchell, a native of Wagga Wagga, Australia, is based in Brooklyn, N.Y., and has created murals around the world, including in New York; Worcester, Mass.; Brazil; Colombia; and Mexico. Mitchell didn’t have a specific child in mind when he created the artwork, he just wanted “to create something positive for the neighborhood, something cheerful where children frequent.”

Abstract Images

In the SW/Behind the Rocks neighborhood, John Paul Ogrodnick’s mural wraps itself around a wall at Kennelly School at 180 White St. The brightly colored jumble of images – animals? plants? just shapes? — wasn’t planned in advance, says the Milford artist.

“I create them totally in the moment. It’s like looking at clouds. You see images in it. I just get rid of all the blankness on the canvas by putting contrasting colors beside each other and things started popping.”

Ogrodnick has created murals in Miami and New York and just started a new one in Milford near Walnut Beach.

Hartford Heroes

Muralist Nicole Johnson lives in Southington but her heart is in Hartford. Her artwork in the SoDo neighborhood, on the Adult Education Building at 110 Washington St., features renditions of heroes of Hartford’s past: Abraham Giles, Andrew Woods, Ann Uccello, Barbara Kennelly, William J. Brown, Bill Costen, Bishop Raúl González, Carrie Saxon Perry, Charles "Butch" Lewis, Eriq La Salle, Dollie McLean, Jacquelyn Santiago, Chief John Bradley Stewart Jr., Maria Clemencia Colón Sanchez, Ella Cromwell, Paul Brown, Sanford Cloud, Thirman Millner, Gertrude Mero, Willie Pep and Lew Brown.

Give Peace A Chance

Nick Frasco painted two children – his son and one of his students – on Breakthrough II Elementary School at 395 Lyme St., in the Blue Hills neighborhood. The kids hold butterflies and wear T-shirts that say “give peace” and “a chance.” The colorful mural has multicolored pixelation at the edges, giving it a vibrant feel. Frasco, a former art teacher at Hartford’s Kinsella Magnet School in Hartford, has several indoor murals there.

“That place is like my portfolio,” Frasco says. Now the Wethersfield resident runs a youth summer program at Wethersfield Academy for the Arts. This summer, he and his students tried to paint an outdoor mural, but it was too hot. “We had to paint inside,” he says.

‘Music Is The Link’

Edwin Sepulveda’s bold image of an indigenous musician – in the Northeast neighborhood, painted on the front of the Parker Memorial Community Center at 2621 Main St. – was inspired by an art-making trip he took to Ecuador.

“I did a community project in a town that was impacted by a really big earthquake. It was a sad situation, but when we started painting the people started getting smiles on their faces,” says Sepulveda, a native of Puerto Rico, who is based in Orlando, Fla., and goes by the moniker DON RIMX.

“Music is the link between cultures, that sharing of knowledge through music.”

Watching Over The Men

Men who congregate at the McKinney homeless shelter in the former firehouse at 34 Huyshope Ave. in the Sheldon Charter Oak Neighborhood (CSS/CON), are watched over by mythological beings. Artist Yuliya Puhach, a native of Belarus who lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., creates images of women with surreal or supernatural elements.

Puhach painted two women — eyes downcast, with wings and blazing red hair — on the shelter’s two large doors. She said they are insect fairies and the mural is called “Insects.”

“There are two portraits of beautiful enchantress, which are the guards of the building. When I found out that the building is a male shelter I understood that my design found right place because these women will protect the tenants from troubles and will give them positive energy.”

Jackie McLean

Years ago, Sarah Warda of Newington painted five goddesses on the side of Hygienic Art gallery in New London. For her Upper Albany mural at Achievement First school at 305 Greenfield St., Warda was inspired by one more earthly but also adored: jazzman Jackie McLean, who founded Artists Collective 50 years ago.

“I used an image of him in his youth. Probably most people knew him more when he was older, but I wanted that passion, that young vibe,” Warda says. “I thought it might inspire other youth.”

Warda’s mural is called “Avenue Rhythm.” The date of its unveiling is yet to be determined.

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