Winning mural design incorporates iconic Pawtucket architecture

Winning mural design incorporates iconic Pawtucket architecture

The winning mural design, from artist Kit Collins, for Payne Park in Pawtucket. Work is expected to begin and finish this summer.

PAWTUCKET – Artist Kit Collins says she wants her new mural at Payne Park in the Woodlawn neighborhood in Pawtucket, which features iconic city buildings and the Blackstone River, to serve as a colorful backdrop for park-goers or viewed closely as an “I Spy” game of sorts for local residents.

“It was my goal to create a design that, ultimately, would read as a showcase and celebration of Pawtucket and the Woodlawn neighborhood,” Collins said in her winning proposal, adding that she hopes community members can enjoy it “either simply as a colorful, family-friendly composition or as a series of illustrative local portraits in which they might recognize a piece of their community.”

After narrowing down a pool of 15 applicants, a subcommittee of the Pawtucket Arts Commission invited three artists to submit a proposal and design for the mural by May 11, ultimately selecting, based on public input, Medford, Mass.-based Collins as the winner.

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Jay Rosa, the city’s assistant director of planning and redevelopment, said on Monday that they are finalizing insurance coverage and he expects they will sign a contract in another week. “This is not atypical,” he said of the timeline, noting officials are excited to get the project going.

Work is expected to begin and be completed this summer. Rosa added that city officials are having conversations with local art teachers to find students to help with the mural, serving as apprentices to Collins.

The project is being funded in part by a $10,000 Rhode Island Foundation Community Grant. The Department of Public Works is also contributing funds to the project.

Payne Park, a 1.2-acre multi-use community space, saw improvements last summer including a new playground, basketball courts, a splash park, landscaping, and a passive recreation section that includes three separate free-standing concrete walls where the mural will be painted.

City officials created an online survey to gather community feedback on the mural after a public meeting had to be canceled due to COVID-19 earlier this year. After compiling data from the 60 responses, artists were given access to the information to inform their designs. Residents said brightness and color are important in public art, adding that they would like to see the new mural inspire residents and visitors by encouraging fun and enjoyment.

In preparation to create her design for the mural, Collins said she spent time with survey responses gathered from community members, read about the history and character of Pawtucket and, in particular, the Woodlawn neighborhood, and visited both the site and surrounding neighborhood.

What stuck with her, she said, were the beauty, scenery, and neighborly feeling of Woodlawn, as well as the many different styles of architecture that could be seen in the area, the green space and river, and an emphasis on art and culture.

The mural design includes illustrations of some iconic buildings in the city, including the Armory, Gilbane’s Service Station, Slater Mill, Woodlawn’s Nelson Wellman House, the Leroy Theatre, which is no longer standing, and the Division Street Bridge. Collins said she was interested in the “range of architectural styles in the local industrial, commercial, and residential landscape,” as they struck her “as a kind of historical record of the different chapters of the city’s history.”

She said she referenced the National Register of Historic Places as well as the Pawtucket Preservation Society’s “Woodlawn Neighborhood Tour” document for inspiration.

The Blackstone River is also featured in the design to balance out the architecture with the natural environment, and help unite the design from one wall section to the next, Collins said. “On my site visit, I was struck by how bright and lovely even the denser residential streets felt,” she said. “Grassy areas, trees, blossoms, and, here and there, a bird or critter making its presence known.”

Reflecting a theme of celebration, Collins included figures of humans in various vignettes: walking, biking, playing sports and music, interacting with art, enjoying nature, and milling about small storefronts. “In the midst of everything else, I wanted these depictions of recreation and community life to take center stage – a celebration of people being people, taking part in the simple pleasures that a neighborhood can offer,” she said.

According to her website, Collins, a multi-media artist, says her practice involves illustration, custom art, site-specific murals, product design, cartooning and teaching workshops. She has painted murals in Boston and New Hampshire.

She draws from a range of techniques, which includes printmaking, embroidery, drawing and painting, and she seeks to use her work to “create opportunities for levity, delight, and humor – whether that calls for a cartoony approach to illustration, an illustrative approach to muraling, or something else entirely.”