By Angeljean Chiaramida
---- — This week at the Newburyport Art Association, local residents will get a preview of the murals that will soon decorate the Salisbury Rail Trail connector, a part of its popular Old Eastern Marsh recreation trail.
The murals are slated to be installed this spring on the concrete abutments under the Gillis Bridge, which spans the Merrimack River. The bridge not only connects road traffic between Salisbury and Newburyport, but with the rail trail connector, it now provides a safe method of travel across busy Route 1 between Salisbury’s Old Eastern Marsh and Newburyport’s Clipper City rail trails.
For the mural project, an invitation went out to artists last fall; seven locals were chosen to create the murals. Their work is being honored this week at the art association in a new exhibit that runs through Monday. A reception with the artists is set for tonight at the art association on Water Street from 5:30 to 7:30. The festivities include a program with state and local representatives, beginning at 6:30, during which awards will be presented to the artists.
“The murals are smashing,” said Salisbury Selectman Jerry Klima, who helped frame the exhibit. “They’re far above my expectations. The artists did wonderful work.”
Salisbury officials along with the Newburyport Art Association and Coastal Trails Coalition collaborated over the past six months to select the artists. They are: Methuen’s Jim Angelone; Raymond Guertin of Rowley; Peggy Omer and Edith Heyck, both of Amesbury; Newbury’s Debi Libuda; and Stephanie Noah and Claudia Owens, both of Newburyport.
In addition to the permanent murals, Salisbury worked with Triton Middle School art teacher Brooke Morse, whose students researched Salisbury’s history and held a contest of their own, according to Salisbury planning director Lisa Pearson. The students selected nine drawings as winners, with three on exhibit in the art show.
Exhibit organizers at the Newburyport Art Association called the project “the very best in community collaboration. “(It) offered an exciting opportunity for local artists, and in the end, an aesthetically beautiful addition to the new Salisbury Rail Trail,” they said in a press release.
The winners were selected from 11 proposals that were submitted after the call went out seeking 4-by-7-foot works of art to be part of a multi-panel mural decorating the cement walls of the connector. The murals had to depict Salisbury’s history and culture.
Pearson said the chosen pieces showcase beach scenes, the town’s expansive salt marsh, a horse pulling a plow that represents Salisbury’s farming heritage, a seascape of Ring’s Island and lobster buoys that highlight the town’s link with the fishing industry.
For example, Angelone’s mural represents the time he spent with his grandfather, walking the sands of Salisbury Beach to its jetty. An architect, Guertin created a mural that captures Salisbury’s “beacons,” representing the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. They include the 1834 East Parish Meeting House clock tower, the 1873 Ben Butler’s Toothpick, Star of the Sea Roman Catholic Church’s 1947 steeple and the newest local pinnacle, the Institution for Savings clock tower, constructed in 2006.
Those who can’t make the exhibit have many other opportunities to enjoy the murals, which will be installed on the bridge abutments this spring. Plus, the Salisbury Rail Trail Connector Art Walk will take place along the banks of the Merrimack River at the Route 1 Gillis Bridge on May 18.
Planned to be a yearly event, the art stroll will allow local artists and fine crafters to set up easels and tables along the 1.4-mile Old Eastern Marsh Rail trail, which parallels Bridge Road (Route 1) in Salisbury.
The need for the connector became apparent after the two recreation trails in Newburyport and Salisbury saw heavy use. Given the fast-moving traffic on and off the Gillis Bridge in both directions, safety soon became an issue for those wanting to cross Route 1 in Salisbury at the foot of the bridge to connect with the rail trail in Newburyport.
IF YOU GO What: Rail Trail murals on display Where: Newburyport Art Association, 65 Water St., Newburyport How: The exhibit runs through Monday in the Laura Coombs Hills Gallery. A reception with the artists is set for tonight at the art association on Water Street, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Gallery hours are Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, 1 to 5 p.m.