Playing it natural

Playing it natural

Benny Notorangelo, seen here adding a finishing touch to one side of his mural on Manville Road, said he hopes to get community support to expand the mural to include scenes of the Blackstone River Bikeway and the city’s history. (Breeze photos by Lauren Clem)
Local artist paints colorful mural on Manville Road

WOONSOCKET – Herons, a hummingbird and even a squinty-eyed chameleon aren’t often seen tiptoeing around Manville Road, but they’ve now made their home on the side of a little-used building thanks to the work of a local artist.

Benny Notorangelo, a city resident who paints under the name “Naturals Natural,” is behind the nature scene that’s gradually taken root on the corner of Manville Road and Davison Avenue over the past few months. The colorful mural features birds in flight, a close up of the moon and several curling green plants that wrap around the side of the building to where the road meets a railroad trestle over Davison Avenue.

Though the building looks vacant from the outside, it’s owned by Blackstone resident Ron Beaulieu, who uses it for storage for his landscaping company, R&R Landscaping. Earlier this summer, Notorangelo told The Valley Breeze, he approached company employees about painting a mural to help head off the graffiti that makes regular appearances on the side of the building.

“I tried to catch them one morning and I asked if I could do something nice for the city,” he said. “They said, ‘Oh, go ahead, as long as you do something nice because the kids keep doing something anyway.’”

He’s not the first one to target the rundown structure for an art project. In 2017, Notorangelo was one of several volunteers who responded to a call for help cleaning up the property and the nearby railroad trestle. At the time, a group calling themselves the “Community Action Brigade” was hoping to paint a mural along Davison Avenue featuring scenes from the nearby Blackstone River Bikeway, a project that drew the support of city officials and permission from neighboring landowners.

The group prepped the wall with white paint and painted “Welcome to Woonsocket” on the opposite side of the street, but the project never came together and within two years, graffiti had begun to make its way back onto the wall. Impatient with the lack of progress, Notorangelo decided to move forward with his own ideas for the mural. The response, he said, has been positive so far, with passersby often complimenting the work.

“Even the police drove by, they stopped, they said great job, keep going,” he said. “It was good. The city likes it, and that’s all I wanted.”

His experience in the local art scene goes back to 2001, when he worked as an art instructor for NeighborWorks Blackstone River Valley, then known as the Woonsocket Neighborhood Development Corporation. He later worked as an instructor for the Woonsocket Housing Authority and various local schools, but the pay wasn’t good and the politics kept him from enjoying the work, he told The Breeze. He now works for Anubis LTD, the contractor that sets up the staging for events at Gillette Stadium, and does his artwork on the side, doing small jobs for pay or practicing with friends in Providence and around northern Rhode Island.

Though he no longer teaches, Notorangelo said it’s important to him to show young people how art can be positive for the community. As a teenager, he used to hang out and paint graffiti on the railroad trestle behind the now demolished French Worsted Company Mill, some of which is still visible behind the vacant lot. Now, he tries to show teenagers who pass by on their way to the railroad tracks how they can use art to make something beautiful instead of vandalism. So far, the Manville Road mural has been spared from graffiti, which he takes as a good sign.

“The kids are respecting it, and that’s the main thing to show the kids,” he explained.

Though the Davison Avenue side of the building still features a mostly empty canvas, Notorangelo said he’s put the project on hold for the moment until he can get in touch with city officials about what they want to do next. The original plans for the project featured scenes from the bikeway as well as the city’s history, and he’s hoping his work will spur other community members to get involved and get the project back off the ground. He’s also hoping for some financial support – paint for the Manville Road side of the building cost close to $400 of his own money, he said, and he’s hoping others will be willing to pitch in.

“I can’t wait to get it done. I’ve been waiting two years to get that wall done,” he said.

A mural by local artist Benny Notorangelo recently took shape on a building owned by a landscaping company on Manville Road.
A chameleon clinging to a plant a few inches above Davison Avenue is one of several critters featured in the new mural on Manville Road.

Comments

What a beautiful use for this abandoned building. Each day folks will drive by and admire this and it will certainly bring a smile to each of them. Well done.