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Hartford Landmarks Grace Library Photo Murals

NANCY SCHOEFFLER

February 20, 2009

Homeowners with an oversize space to decorate in their home or office should head to the Hartford Public Library for some design inspiration.

A few weeks ago, 17 dramatic floor-to-ceiling color photographs of Hartford landmarks were added along the north and south walls of the lobby among them the Colt Armory dome, horses from the Bushnell Park Carousel, the State Capitol at night, an aerial view of the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch, the Rose Garden at Elizabeth Park and the Morgan Great Hall in the Wadsworth Atheneum.

The photographs were shot by Jack McConnell, who says the library's former chief librarian, Louise Blalock, enlisted him to produce photos of neighborhood scenes as part of the library's capital improvement project.

"We walked around and looked around, but a lot of the neighborhoods are not that photogenic," McConnell said. So he and his wife, Paula McNamara, dipped into his stock library of Connecticut photographs, which dates from the 1970s and includes about 40,000 or 50,000 images shot in Hartford.

"I know photography always can have an impact even just scenes of your neighborhood or an area really can ring a bell," McConnell said. They picked out about 100 shots and then made 3-inch dummies for a storyboard, to see how they would work in the library space.

McConnell's basic tool is a 45-year-old Fuji camera; he still shoots with film. That made it possible for Carl Ward, of CW Graphic Imaging in Fairfield, to enlarge the photos that were selected to 9 feet high and up to 20 feet wide.

Ward, a printing expert who previously was quality control manager at Time Inc. magazines, printed the photographs on a wallpaper that can be adhered to the wall without matting or glass. The effect is a vibrant, uninterrupted flow of images.

"I can print on anything, really," says Ward. The wallpaper also was given three layers of an acrylic coating to protect against graffiti or the occasional bumping by chairs.

McConnell and Ward also produced four black-and-white murals related to Wallace Stevens' life for the library's third-floor room named for the poet including Stevens' home on Westerly Terrace, his grave at Cedar Hill Cemetery and the stag of The Hartford, the insurance company where he worked.

"You can change the whole feeling of a room and make it totally different with a photographic mural," Ward said. "It can be a favorite place of yours, a vacation retreat, water views, harbors, woods. It's a life-size scene in front of you."

Many of the photographs used for the murals are of details or portions of buildings or landmarks, taken from a tight perspective and highlighting textures and reflections.

"A little piece of something," McConnell said. "The whole would be nice, but the single image is so much more powerful."

And even at such a grand scale, the details are vivid.

"They make a big difference," said Thomas Gamble, a Hartford man who said he visits the library a couple of times a month. Last week was the first time he had been to the library since the murals were installed.

Gamble said he grew up in Hartford and recognizes most of the scenes.

"It makes the library more homey, you know what I mean? More inviting," he said.

A West Hartford man named Marty was reading near the south wall; he had been visiting a friend in the hospital.

"I recognize, obviously, many of the places and I do think they brighten up the library," he said. "It does make me want to take more notice of the places here most of which I've been to, but quite honestly, I walk right past them."

Irving Riddick, who works in construction, moved to Hartford last month from Waterbury. On a recent morning he sat in the library, gazing at the photographs along the north wall.

"I think they're beautiful," Riddick said. "I'm going to check out all these things, because I don't know many of the places. It's really a map for me."

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.
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