LINCOLN – Jason Eckhardt has been commissioned to draw up a mural of Great Road, intertwining Lincoln’s past and present through his depiction of about 30 historic sites.
Once completed, the roughly 10-foot mural will be installed as a free-standing interpretive panel outside the visitor center at Chase Farm Park.
“We wanted to provide a 19th century look, or snapshot, of what was going on along Great Road at that time,” said Kathy Hartley, president of the Friends of Hearthside nonprofit that helps manage several town-owned historic properties along Great Road.
The Friends of Hearthside received a grant from the Rhode Island Foundation to restore the Pullen Corner Schoolhouse, which was moved to Chase Farm in 2015; and later went back to RIF seeking additional funds to continue improving the park.
“We knew we wanted to have a mural,” Hartley said, but they had many “starts and stops” in their effort to find the right artist to capture the history of the roadway.
“I tried different artists, but they couldn’t visualize this … it wasn’t coming together,” she said. “If we were going to do it, we wanted to do it right.”
They were looking for something in the hand-drawn style of the late illustrator Eric Sloane — but Hartley feared they wouldn’t find the right fit, since that sort of work is done mostly online now.
“Twenty minutes later, Jason pulls into the yard,” she said. “It was magic.”
Eckhardt, who lives with his wife in New Bedford, Mass., journeyed to Lincoln with a friend last November to check out the Hocus Pocus movie set at Chase Farm.
As they were driving past Hearthside House, Eckhardt noticed a group of people outside mounting a cannon onto a carriage. He pulled into the driveway and started to sketch the cannon. Hartley flagged him down as he was leaving and asked to see the drawing. Her eyes lit up.
“When he said he was an illustrator, I was in shock,” she said. “We hit it off. He was interested in the mural, he showed me his sketchbook and the work he’d done for the Little Compton Historical Society.”
Hartley had long admired Little Compton’s letterhead, not knowing it was created by Eckhardt, who grew up there.
“I think we were meant to be brought together to have this done. This is our history right here,” she said.
Eckhardt is a self-taught artist, inspired by his watercolorist mother. “From the time I was little, she as very encouraging to me,” he said.
Growing up in Lincoln, Mass. as a small child, he remembers the children’s book author and illustrator Leonard Weisgard visited his school.
“That was my first instance of realizing that somebody made the pictures in this book,” he said. “I remember thinking: what a great job.”
At age 12, he was again struck by the beauty of the illustrations in his favorite Norse mythology book. He wanted to be the person creating those images.
“As I read stories, I started making my own drawings for them,” he said. He briefly attended the Rhode Island School of Design before he got his first work opportunity illustrating the works of H.P. Lovecraft.
“I’ve been at it ever since,” he said.
Eckhardt has spent countless hours researching the history of Great Road, significant landmarks and the topography to show an accurate birds-eye view of the area.
“Jason has done a remarkable job with his research,” Hartley said. “He’s spent hours like you wouldn’t believe, coming up here and exploring, walking Chase Farm and Lincoln Woods.”
Eckhardt said it’s been a “wonderful education” into Lincoln’s history. Having majored in history in college, he said this project is his bread and butter. “One thing that occurred to me about the whole thing is how thing change over time,” he said. For example, a lot of the work he did was grass. “Twenty thousand little blades of grass. It was all clear-cut for timber or firewood back then.”
Hartley said people will recognize some of the buildings in the mural, since they’re still standing today. Others are long gone, and people are generally unaware of what they might have looked like.
One of those buildings, depicted in Eckhardt’s mural, is the original barn at Chase Farm, which was lost to a fire. The mural shows the original location of the Hannaway Blacksmith Shop across from Hearthside (now at Chase Farm), the house where Hearthside’s founder grew up (also lost to a fire), and the home where he lived later in life.
“The mural is incredibly accurate,” Hartley said, thanks to Eckhardt’s eye for detail.
He started with an old map of the area and scaled it up several times to ensure “everything was where it was supposed to be,” using photos and descriptions of the land to help.
“I discovered some interesting things along the way,” he said, pointing to a former mill pond at the entrance of Lincoln Woods. Today, it’s swamp land.
He said it’s a point of honor to ensure his work is factually correct, but there’s some guess work involved with the project. He isn’t totally sure which side of the Moshassuck River a former grist mill was on, since there aren’t any photos of it.
His mural also includes small details depicting daily life on the roadway — people working outside on their farmland or trotting past in a carriage or on horseback. There’s a girl in the field receiving a bouquet of flowers.
“We like to think things get busier and busier over time, but this area was a lot busier 100 years ago,” Eckhardt said.
“What’s great is that today we can still visit and see some of these properties,” added Hartley. The mural “really shows us what it was like at that time … it really brings everything to life.”