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September 20, 2017

Bricks and Murals arrives in Westerly/Pawcatuck this week


A Bricks and Murals Festival, featuring the work of some 100-gifted mural and sign painters from as far away as Germany, will arrive in Westerly and Pawcatuck on Wednesday, Sept. 13, in a rare visit to the Northeast by a group of painters who call themselves Walldogs.

The festival, which includes art, children’s programs, food and music, runs through Sept. 17.

It will celebrate a form of art and advertising that was in vogue mostly in the early part of the 20th century, while commemorating the rich history of Westerly and Pawcatuck.

An example of a mural that will be painted, taken from Westerly’s Bricks and Murals website.

Over the last 23 years, The Walldogs have visited 27 towns, painting 564 murals. About a third of the organization’s 340 Walldogs will be in Westerly and Pawcatuck.

Murals will be painted on 14 aging downtown buildings throughout the two villages. The festival, organizers say, is not only a celebration of art, of the area’s culture and history, but also a recognition that these two villages, in two different states, have become one community.

Organizers see the festival as a way of continuing a revitalization of downtowns lined with charming older buildings, but that had fallen on challenging times, with several empty storefronts and offices. It’s now rebounding as a cultural and entertainment destination.

“It’s a way of celebrating a community through the arts,” says Jean Gagnier, a Westerly Town Councilman, who along with sign painter Cam Bortz of Pawcatuck, was instrumental in bringing the Festival to the area.

Bortz presented the concept to Gagnier, then presented it to fellow Walldogs in 2015. They were quick to embrace the idea of coming east. “They want to see something other than cornfields,” he says.

Except for a small stipend to project leaders and designers, Bortz says the Walldogs come for room and board, and the “excitement of seeing friends and meeting new friends.”

For Bortz, a Walldog for 20 years, it’s “a way of looking at the kind of wall painting that had been done in the early part of the 20th century. The festival is a way to look back at that part of the industry, and to get sign painters in front of the public as artists.”

An example of a mural that will be painted, taken from Westerly’s Bricks and Murals website.

The Walldogs have visited communities, mostly in Wisconsin and Illinois, revitalizing towns for residents and tourists alike. In Pontiac, Illinois, population 12,000, and situated along the famed Route 66, Bortz says that before the Walldogs visited in 2009, the local Chamber of Commerce reported about 5,000 visitors annually. Following the Festival, Bortz says, the chamber reported a dramatic increase to 60,000 visitors annually.

Rob Simmons, first selectman of Stonington, is hoping for a similar impact on Pawcatuck. “We’re trying to revitalize this part of town,” Simmons says.

Bortz believes the attention to history and culture is vital.

“There is a certain amount of what I call disengaged tourism in the area,” Bortz says. “They (tourists) don’t really have any means to appreciate the history and culture. We’re bringing that to the people.”

Among the murals is a celebration of the two villages as one community; of the granite industry’s importance to the area; of the historic mills; remembering Corporal James A. Barber of Westerly, a Civil War hero and the recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Murals honor music, the Westerly chorus and the Westerly Band, reportedly the oldest civic band in America in one mural, and the blues in another. The steamboat, railroad and Italian heritage are celebrated in other murals. And another celebrates one of the oldest Thanksgiving football rivalries in the United States, Stonington versus Westerly, first played in 1911. The score on the mural will be 7 to 7.

Bricks and Murals Festival Event Schedule

The Bricks and Murals Festival in Westerly and Pawcatuck gets underway on Sept. 13 with the arrival of a 100 or mural sign and mural painters. The festival includes art, music, food and children’s events over four days. Following is the festival events schedule.

Wednesday, Sept. 13

6 p.m. – “Arts Town:  A History of Arts in Westerly” panel discussion at the United Theatre presented by the Westerly Regional Arts Project.

Sundown – 10 p.m. Projection of Murals onto various walls and panels with Walldog artists and volunteers, Children’s “paint by number” mural project in the parking lot at 18 High St., Westerly.

Thursday, Sept. 14

7 a.m. – 7 p.m. Mural painting at various locations in downtown Westerly.

5 p.m. – 10 p.m. Food Stroll and Block Party – streets closed!

5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Food Stroll (tickets available at bricksandmurals.org) with live music at various locations

8 p.m. – 9:30 p.m.  The Cartells live in front of the United Theatre

Friday, Sept. 15

7 a.m. – 7 p.m. Mural painting at various locations in downtown Westerly

4 p.m. – 9 p.m. Trolley running along mural route. Free rides to view murals and painting in progress.

5 p.m. – 8 p.m. Live music at various locations.

7 p.m. – 9:30 p.m. Beer Garden at Grey Sail Brewing of Rhode Island, 63 Canal St., Westerly.

Saturday, Sept. 16

7 a.m. – 7 p.m. Mural painting at various locations in downtown Westerly.

  1. am — Walking Tour of Wilcox Park guided by Alan Peck, Park Director.
  2. a.m. – 5 p.m. Mural Themed Children’s Activities in Wilcox Park • Do-it-yourself boats for the pond • Letter press • Interactive hurricane/tornado vortex activity • String phone activity • Make and take home your own herb garden • Stonington/Westerly football rivalry head-in-hole photo booth • Civil War camp for kids • Children’s mural • Granite block building.

11a.m. – 3 p.m. Trackless train rides for children in Wilcox Park .

11:30 a.m. – 9 p.m. Trolley running along mural route. Free rides to view murals and painting in progress.

1 p.m. – 4 p.m. Live Music at Donahue Park, Pawcatuck – Some of Nine.

1 p.m. – 2:30 Westerly Band at the bandstand in Wilcox Park, Westerly.

2 p.m. – 5 p.m. Free horse and wagon rides beginning in front of the U.S. Post Office, 5 High St., Westerly.

3 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. Rockin’ Recliners Band on Westerly Public Library esplanade, 44 W. Broad St., Westerly.

5 p.m. – 8 p.m. Live music at various locations outside.

7 p.m. – 9 p.m. Public Auction of Original Art by Walldog Artists at The Artists’ Cooperative Gallery of Westerly, 7 Canal St., Westerly.

8 p.m. Winner-take-all raffle prize drawing at the Public Auction of Original Art by Walldog Artists at The Artists’ Cooperative Gallery of Westerly, 7 Canal St.

Sunday, Sept. 17

10 a.m. – 2 p.m. Trolley running along mural route. Free rides to view the completed murals