Art Students Pitch New Ideas for Old Mill

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When art student Fabiola Navarrete ’14 looked at the dull industrial wall fronting downtown Brunswick’s former textile mill, Fort Andross, she imagined the factory workers who once toiled behind its facade. In her proposed mural for the wall, two seamstresses are sewing a flowing, colorful tapestry, one by hand and one by machine. “The mural denotes their role in helping shape the material world around us,” Navarrete explained.

In Mik Cooper ’14′s proposed mural for the same blank wall, a colorful scene depicts both a factory laborer and the Androscoggin River’s swinging bridge, over which the mill’s workers once walked to work. “…This wall aims to bring the history of the mill forward in a vibrant and energetic way,” Cooper said.

These are two of the 18 suggested projects for the old mill by students in Professor of Art Mark Wethli’s Public Art course. Wethli’s students recently gathered at Fort Andross to present their ideas to the Brunswick Public Art committee, setting up posters in an art gallery and handing out pamphlets to committee members.

This fall, Brunswick Public Art launched an open competition to solicit new works for the fort. Fort Andross is massive structure anchoring Brunswick’s downtown. These days it’s home to restaurants, offices, stores, studios, a farmer’s market and more. Although a fort was built at the spot in 1688, the site in time evolved into a factory that made different goods such as cotton cloth, shoes and woven fiberglass. In its call for submissions for public art, the B.P.A. urged artists to consider the mill’s “interaction with the river, the historical connections or ecological connections.”

The B.P.A. committee has already winnowed down the submissions and selected the mural proposals of Cooper and Navarrette as semi-finalists, along with some projects presented by local artists. Although funding has not yet been secured, a tentative budget ceiling of $30,000 has been established.

While there are practical matters for public artists to consider when designing community art — budgets, liability issues, permits, feasibility and time constraints — Wethli said he urged his students to push those issues aside and “dream big.” “While I made it clear that in real life you do have to think practically, I told them that I wanted to see ‘your dream, your vision, your imagination’,” he said.

Wethli also invited Walter Briggs, the owner of an ad agency in Bath, to his class for one day to give students advice on how to best communicate their ideas through graphic design — titles, texts, and images.

This fall is the fifth time Wethli has offered his Public Arts course. Past student projects that have emerged from this class include Tariq Haq ’12′s colorful banners outside Hannaford Supermarket and Haq’s mosaic in the Harriet Beecher Stowe elementary school cafeteria. Lucy Walker ’14 recently completed a mural for a new doctor’s office near the Brunswick train station.

Click through the slideshow to read brief descriptions about the student projects.

thumb:“X” marks the planned original site for the Memorial Flagpole