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Seen The New Charter Oak On Pearl Street?

Artist Adam Niklewicz's Pearl Street Replication Of Historic Tree On Side Of Former Synagogue

September 13, 2012

There's a new mural in downtown Hartford, on the side of a building on Pearl Street. Just go to Bin 228 Winebar, cross the street and walk through the alley between TheaterWorks and the now-vacant former synagogue. Turn to your left and look up at the old brick surface of the synagogue.

That faded thing is brand new? Yes: Just wait until you see it wet.

Adam Niklewicz's installation, to be formally dedicated on Thursday, Sept. 20, is a water-activated mural of Hartford's historic Charter Oak. The brick around the tree is weather-treated. The area of the tree drawing is not. When the wall gets wet, the bricks in the tree-drawing area become soaked and dark and the treated bricks do not, causing the image to appear sharply on the wall.

Niklewicz's tree is the capitol city's contribution to a statewide City Canvas public art program, which includes artworks in New London, Waterbury, New Britain, Torrington, Bridgeport and Stamford. All of the muralists for all of the projects live in Connecticut.

"We decided we didn't want a traditional mural. That would be the most obvious direction," Niklewicz, of North Haven, said in an interview at the mural site. "We want something less than typical."

The "we" Niklewicz refers to is the committee who chose him and approved of the installation, which included Will Wilkins and John O'Donnell of Real Art Ways, Susan Talbott and Patricia Hickson of the Wadsworth Atheneum, city publicist Mary Coursey and Christina Newman Scott, director of marketing and cultural affairs for the city.

Niklewicz ran by the committee an idea he had a few years ago, in 2009, when he was playing with tree images. "I was arranging concrete blocks covered with translucent sealant and bricks not covered. The unsealed blocks were unaffected until soaked with water, and the image of a tree came out," he said. (To see a video of this, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=arweMjHqez8.)

The committee recommended he apply this method to a rendering of the Charter Oak. "We took this generic tree idea and turned it into something of historical significance," he said. "It gave it gravitas and a completed vision."

The image of the Charter Oak comes from painting in the Atheneum's collection, Charles DeWolf Brownell's "The Charter Oak," from 1857.

Hickson said for Nicklewicz's work is appealing because it brings nature more into the city. "It's in a downtown setting, where there is a park, but then around the park there are all of these empty buildings, not so enlivened by trees," she said.

Newman Scott said of the mural, "In such a wonderful way it challenges those preconceived notions of what a mural can do and what a mural looks like what purpose it serves."

Niklewicz with his assistant, New Haven artist J.D. Richey, who has an exhibit opening in the lobby of TheaterWorks on Thursday, Sept. 20 cut a massive rubber stencil of the Charter Oak. Then he affixed the stencil to the side wall of of the building at 215 Pearl St., the former synagogue, which was vacated and deconsecrated in 1986.

At that point, his mural started to seem more like a home improvement project than an art installation.

"We got everything we needed at Home Depot," Niklewicz said. "We bought lots of Rust-Oleum, which is really paint with no pigment that repels water. It doesn't change the color of the brick. The brick keeps its own color when it gets wet. We sprayed that all over the wall."

The wall is 37 feet tall and 125 feet wide. The tree mural is 30 feet tall and 45 feet wide.

Then Niklewicz and Richey attached two systems of lawn sprinklers three sprinkler heads on the bottom of the mural and two hanging from the roof to the building, below and above the tree.

Depite the unusually rainy weather of late, rain would not have done the trick, Richey said, because it would not fall at an angle that would effectively and evenly soak the wall.

"It won't saturate the image well unless some crazy wind is pushing it," he said. "Unless it's some wild downpour."

Once the mural is dedicated, the sprinklers will soak the image once a day, for about 20 minutes, starting at 3 p.m. The image will be clearly seen for several hours, possibly into the next morning.

"If there's humidity, it will last longer," Niklewicz said. "Brick is a hard sponge."

The mural, however, is only half of the art installation. Hovering over it, projected onto the side of the nearby AT&T building, will be a video, "Walking Around a Tree."

"We took a young tree and ran a camera around it," he said. "It's an illusion of a tree rotating around its own axis."

The video, which will debut on Saturday, Sept. 22, will be projected from 9 p.m. to midnight every night for the duration of the installation, until November.

Kip Bergstrom, deputy commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development, said the the city historical commission, before approving of the project, had to be promised that the wall could be returned to its natural state when the installation has run its course. "It will be up until the winter, and then it can go another season, but we can remove it easily when it starts not to look good anymore," Bergstrom said. "We can take off the Rust-Oleum and the building will not suffer."

Bergstrom said that he hopes the city mural project will inspire other private property owners to finance mural projects on their buildings. He said this already is happening in New London.

"The automotive age has bequeathed us with a cornucopia of canvases waiting for art, parking garages, malls, exposed wall by parking lots," he said. "There are ugly walls all over our cities that could be transformed through art into something beautiful. ... The cities would be totally different, living in them, working in them, they would be enriched, beautiful, vibrant and vital."

CITY CANVAS UNVEILED opening reception will be on Thursday, Sept. 20, from 4 to 7 p.m., starting at the gallery on the second floor of the office building at One Constitution Plaza, where an exhibit will show all the cities' murals, and continuing outdoors at 215 Pearl St. in Hartford, where the water mural and "Walking Around a Tree" will be unveiled. Connecticut Gov. Dannell Malloy, Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra and others will attend. The Constitution Plaza exhibit can be seek weekdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Details: http://www.facebook.com/ctofficeofthearts.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
     
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