Mural grows into community piece


Being blown away: RBHS 2012 alumna Rena Rong was one creator of a new mural on the wall of Alpine Shop downtown. Photo by Aniqa Rahman

Ipsa Chaudhary

Being blown away: RBHS 2012 alumna Rena Rong was one creator of a new mural on the wall of Alpine Shop downtown. Photo by Aniqa Rahman
Amidst stifling heat and dense humidity in late June, Paul Jackson began his work on the mural “Blown Away” located on Hitt Street on the side of the Alpine Shop. The mural emerged during a span of two weeks, stroke-by-stroke, color-by-color, progressing slowly at first but increasingly growing into a beautiful painting impossible to pass without a double take.
The team of artists worked on the wall from May 23 to June 6 with Jackson, taking a week beforehand to prime the wall.
Senior Rebecca Burke-Agüero said the mural adds to the quaint look of downtown.
The mural “is pretty nice,” Burke-Agüero said. The people in it are “just canoeing in a sea of colors. And it’s pretty whimsical.”
Every morning at six Jackson worked on the mural at the corner of Broadway and Hitt picking up his paintbrush to resume the previous day’s work. He worked until noon, then took a break, only to pick back up again at 3 or 4 in the afternoon, working as late as eight. But even with such devotion, Jackson said the completion of the mural would have been impossible without the help of his family and RBHS 2012 alumna, Rena Rong.
Rong, who is currently attending Rhode Island School of Design, first met Jackson her sophomore year when she did a watercolor workshop with him. When Jackson offered the workshop, he asked former RBHS art teacher, Sharon Hyatt-Wade, to send a few students he thought were good candidates for the workshop; Hyatt-Wade picked Rong.
“When I have an empty seat in my workshops I will often offer the space to a local art teacher to send me their best student available,” Jackson said. “Rena [Rong] deserved the opportunity and did very well in the first workshop. So I invited her to others. She has shown lots of talent, promise and growth. So I invited her to join me on the mural project.”
Jackson, an internationally renowned watercolorist, created several public art murals in the past. He contacted Rong saying he was working on a secret project that not many people knew about and asked if she wanted in. Rong, knowing this was a once in a lifetime opportunity, readily accepted.
“He said the owner of the Alpine Shop wanted something there,” Rong said. “So he mocked up a watercolor and made a watercolor plan and used it as a basis for the mural. In the middle of the night, in the empty building across from the mural sight, where the Pasta Factory used to be, he projected the outline of the mural and did it with Sharpie.”
Rong said the rest of the team did not have the commitment that Jackson had, coming early in the morning and leaving late in the evening. But everyone came and did their part of the project.
“Jackson said, ‘There’s a section I want you to do’,” she said.
And Rong did. Jackson gave her a complicated task of rendering white birds on a white background at the far right end of the mural. She said Jackson believed she could pull it off.
Rong considers herself an “art kid,” but the reason she was able to participate in the creation of the mural was because of Hyatt-Wade.
“The reason I went to the workshop two years ago was because I showed Hyatt that I had incentive, that I’m somebody who’s reliable as far as candidacy goes,” she said, noting anyone could have the opportunity she did by simply putting in the effort.
It wasn’t just luck that got Rong working on the mural. Jackson believes students like Rong will receive opportunities, such as the one she did, by opening up to the art community.
“Volunteer for any and all art opportunities, network with as many artists as you can, and create opportunities for yourself,” Jackson said. “There is no specific path to artistic success that has worked for any two artists. Everyone finds their own path, but other artists share ideas information well. It’s a great community to be part of.”
By Ipsa Chaudhary