LOCKPORT – There are many steps to take before it becomes a reality, but there seems to be enthusiasm in the local art community about Main Street businessman George Fritz’s suggestion to paint a giant mural on the side of his store.
Those involved must agree on a design, win the approval of City Hall art critics and raise the money to carry out the task, but Fritz said he is optimistic that a civic effort can bring the plan to fruition.
The 40-by-59-foot “canvas” for the mural project is the east side of Fritz’s store, Mills Jewelers, 51 Main St.
The city’s former parking ramp was attached to the building, but when the city tore the ramp down last year, it revealed the wall of the building, which at the moment is none too attractive, with part of the masonry torn off and some bricks exposed.
The demolition also revealed a vista over the Erie Canal and its locks that was blocked from view during the nearly 40 years that the five-level concrete parking ramp stood there.
Not only can that view be enjoyed from the surface parking lot that replaced the ramp, but visitors can walk to a canal overlook.
And if one happens to be on the canal going through the locks, the bare wall of Fritz’s store jumps out at the viewer.
“It just amazed me how prominent that wall is from the canal view, not just from the Main Street view,” Fritz said.
Mayor Anne E. McCaffrey said repairs to the wall of the store, in effect a giant spackle job, were part of the ramp demolition contract. “The section of the building that has been exposed will be repaired with plaster,” she said.
Nearly a dozen Lockport-area artists showed up at a recent meeting of Fritz’s ad hoc mural group. They are sharing developments in a “Mural on Main” Facebook group between meetings.
“It was just a brainstorming meeting,” Fritz said, but he was astonished by “the passion and creativity … We’re so fortunate in this area.”
At City Hall, a recent Common Council work session batted around the idea of which approvals would be needed for a mural, even one on private property.
Fritz said, “The mural would be a work of public art. It’s not a sign, so it wouldn’t go before the Planning Board.”
McCaffrey said, “I would agree, it does not appear to be related to any sign ordinance.”
But it does appear that Council approval would be needed for a major public art project, which means that the artists have to come up with a design to set before the aldermen.
“It faces a public parking lot and it faces the canal, and you can see it for two blocks down Main Street,” Fritz said.
So, what should be put in the mural?
“Something that looks to the past but celebrates the future,” Fritz said, “We want one iconic image that is created artistically. We don’t want to squeeze everything into it.”
But, having said that, Fritz said there is agreement that the Flight of Five, the original 19th century canal locks now being reopened, must be depicted in some way. Fritz said he wants an American flag in there, too.
However, he said, “I don’t think it’s a wise thing to have politicians or business owners give artistic direction.”
McCaffrey said, “We have to spend a little bit of time looking at how this has been done in other canal communities.”
It turns out that there is a “mural trail” along the Erie Canal, with numerous communities having installed paintings along the waterway.
“I never knew that before,” Fritz said. Many of the paintings are catalogued on a website called www.muralmania.org.
In addition, the mural needs to be enticing enough to get Lockport residents to open their wallets. Fritz said his intention is to fund the project through small public donations. The amount needed depends on the image to be painted, among other factors.
Fritz estimated it at roughly $40,000 to $100,000, but said the latter number “is probably an overestimate.” Expenses will include a fee to the artist selected and the cost of paint, along with either scaffolding or a bucket truck for the artist to work from.
“It would be a great thing for the city. We’d have a lot of challenges, to put it mildly,” Fritz said.
“This is going to be a great opportunity to celebrate what’s great about Lockport,” McCaffrey said.