Artist Jason Tors at work on one of the murals along Littleton's riverfront. (Photo by Justin Roshak) (click for larger version)
June 06, 2018LITTLETON—The riverfront murals on Mill Street turn six this year, a long time for a form of public art exposed to the wind and weather. Yet who knows how they came to be, what came before, or what might come next? The Courier sat down with the folks who made them to learn more.
For more than a decade, the Mill Street murals featured scenes from Littleton history: mill buildings, gold courses, actress and North Country fan Bette Davis, and of course, the Ammonoosuc River. The scenes were painted by Littleton High School students of years gone by.
Short of encasement in glass or plexiglass, no force on earth can protect a mural in its original condition from the rain and wind, snow, and road salt. Even shielded, the sun itself wears away at the painted concrete, day after day, year after year. As a result, the Mill murals were in less then great shape by the time Jason Tors and Jim Alden took it on themselves to replace them.
Tors designed the new murals, drawing, he says, from classic, New York City sign styles. He used big, clear letters without adornment—modern, urban, bold, and energetic. He wanted the sign to evoke the best in mid-twentieth century design, with a classic style but also a certain all-American timelessness.
The gang stripped and press-washed the old murals off the walls, before coating them with durable, high-quality masonry paint. Most of the paint, about $100 worth, was donated by Wal Mart, Jim Aldin recalled.
Dave Gunning, who produced signs for the Co-Op, among other locations, drew the designs freehand, before projecting them onto the wall.
As they stand, the murals read: "Welcome" to Littleton Main Street of the Mountains, stretching across a full block, and fourteen parking spaces.
As Tors tells it, the quotation marks around "Welcome" are an old-fashioned way of emphasizing a particular word.
The murals were meant to be seen from the far side of the river, to emphasize the "welcoming" aspect, Tors said. The fact that they adorn the largest free public parking lot in the downtown, adds to that.
Further up Mill Street, on the same building as Tors' art venue The Loading Dock, a second mural features a kaleidoscope of colors, and the words "Stay Gold Ponyboy." This mural was more personal for Tors, and quotes the famous youth-in-revolt novel "The Outsiders," later adapted by Francis Ford Coppola of "The Godfather" fame. The words, from a dying friend, reference Robert Frost's poem:
Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
All art is impermanent, which makes it beautiful, says Tors. In that spirit, he's willing—enthusiastic, even—to redo the Mill Street murals with something completely different, from someone completely new. They won't last forever anyway, so why not do them over? That way Littleton really can stay gold.