By Angeljean Chiaramida
---- — SALISBURY — Seven of the region’s artists will spend time this winter preparing for spring, when their works will be unveiled at the Salisbury Rail Trail Connector Art Walk along the banks of the Merrimack River at the Route 1 Gillis Bridge.
Works by Jim Angelone, Raymond Guertin, Edith Heyck, Debi Libuda, Stephanie Noah, Peggy Omer and Claudia Owens have been chosen to hang on the Gillis Bridge abutments, according to Salisbury Planning Director Lisa Pearson.
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 mural aims to honor the theme of historic cultural Salisbury and the pieces chosen exemplify that perfectly, Pearson said. Murals will showcase beach scenes, the town’s expansive salt marsh, a horse pulling a plow representing Salisbury’s farming heritage, a seascape of Ring’s Island and lobster buoys to highlight the town’s link with the fishing industry.
Angelone, a Methuen resident and freelance artist, said he decided to submit a proposal because he grew up spending summers with his grandparents at their home at Salisbury Beach.
“My picture will represent the time I spent with my grandfather while we walked down to the jetty,” he said.
Four impressive facades of “Salisbury’s Beacons” by Ipswich architect Raymond Guertin also caught the eye of the selection committee, Pearson said.
“Some of the most notable structures of Salisbury have become symbols or landmarks identifying the history and character of the town,” Guertin wrote in his proposal.
The four beacons 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.
“Each is a recognizable `beacon,’ representing the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries, as well as the history of Salisbury,” he said.
Salisbury Selectman and biking enthusiast Jerry Klima joined with Pearson, Assistant Town Planner Leah Hill and two members of the Newburyport Art Association to choose the winning proposals.
Pearson said children from the region will also be represented in the project through an “educational component.” Triton Regional Middle School students in art teacher Brooke Morse’s classes will be selected on a rotating basis to show their work on a movable art wall, she said.
When the seven chosen artists’ works are completed, their panels will be permanently affixed under the Gillis Bridge on the abutments, concrete structures that are about 80 feet long and 9 feet high. No artwork will be painted directly on the abutments.
Materials used must weather a relatively harsh environment, Pearson said, for they’ll stay up year-round. The committee has taken care to protect the murals against vandals, for “graffiti coatings” will be applied.
May 18 is the unofficial day for the unveiling of the murals on the Salisbury Art Walk as well as the opening of the Rail Trail Connector, which will allow bicyclists and pedestrians to travel between Newburyport’s Clipper City Trail and Salisbury’s Old Eastern Marsh Trail without having to cross one of the busiest portions of Route 1.
On opening day, local artists and craftspeople will be invited to set up their easels and display and sell their paintings, sculpture and other creatures along the Old Eastern Marsh Trail and the new trail connection, according to Klima.
The Rail Trail Connector is a million-dollar project and is possible thanks to federal funding, two generous local landowners who helped provide needed strips of land and the ingenuity of state transportation authorities.
The need for the connector became apparent after the two recreation trails in Newburyport and Salisbury drew 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 rail trail in Newburyport.
Once the connector is completed, those using the trail in Newburyport will be able to travel south over the Gillis Bridge and at its end, make a right-hand U-turn just before First Street by Striper’s Restaurant and proceed down the embankment. From there, they will be able to travel under the Gillis Bridge to the other side on 8-foot-wide paved surfaces, go up the embankment on the west side of the bridge, travel north a bit and then take a left into Friedenfels Road, to the path proceeding to the head of the Old Eastern Marsh Trail.
With the addition of the murals, not only will trail users be safe, they’ll learn a lot about the Salisbury community over the years.