Bella Carton’s brow furrowed as she gingerly stroked white paint up and down the massive scene before her, balancing on an overturned milk crate to get the height she needed to finish creating a tableau of the Charles River on a wall that towered 7 feet high.
The Watertown native plucked a paint-stained earbud from her right ear, pausing for a moment to consider her connection to the scene she was painting, which included a sign marking the river paths.
“When I was younger, I would take a lot of bike rides here, and would see these signs everywhere,” sajd Carton, heading into her senior year at Watertown High. “This is where I grew up.”
Carton is one of nine Watertown students volunteering their prime summer weekdays to paint a 230-foot-long mural of Watertown landmarks on the cement wall that snakes along the Linear Park bike path at the end of Forest Street.
The project, which aims to discourage graffiti and introduce public art into the local community, is finally taking shape after three years of planning and fund-raising by the town’s Bicycle & Pedestrian Committee.
‘We asked people what they liked about Watertown, what’s important in the town to them, and asked them to tell stories about their time here.’
“We’re trying to capture the spirit of Watertown,” said Janet Jameson, a committee member who is among the project’s active supporters.
But the mural has now taken on a life of its own, as various town departments and local businesses have donated time, money, and resources toward its completion.
In addition to donations of money from several local banks, the Sherwin-Williams store on Howard Street has supplied buckets upon buckets of free paint, while the Home Depot on Arsenal Street has given all of the other supplies needed for the epic artistic undertaking. Earlier this summer, local Tufts Health Plan employees covered over graffiti and primed the wall for painting, and the town’s Recreation Department oversaw the application process for the student artists, and now is handling the time sheets to document their community service hours.
“This is a real community effort,” said Gregg Bernstein, a professional mural artist chosen to oversee the project. “We’re hoping this takes off, because there are so many opportunities along this bike route for public art.”
The events involving Boston Marathon bombing suspects Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in Watertown on April 19 thrust the suburb into a national spotlight, but those involved in the painting project say the mural has no connection to the bombing and its local aftermath.
“We planned all this before what happened in April,” Jameson said. “What’s happened here with this project has nothing to do with that. It’s about our community and how it has pulled together.”
Some students said the events had a minor influence on their decision to apply for the summer internship, in which they work from 8 a.m. through 2 p.m. every weekday for community service hours. But most said they do it for the sheer joy of making art, and immortalizing the people and places that made their childhoods memorable.
“I can’t wait to come back here when I’m older and tell people I painted this,” said rising sophomore Abi Vershbow. She stood back and pointed to the scene she helped paint, depicting the high school’s champion field hockey players hunched over their sticks on Victory Field.
“I’ve lived in Watertown my whole life, and my house is right next to Victory Field,’’ she said. “So I hear the football and field hockey games every night. It seems a little strange that I’m painting that.”
The mural’s landmarks were picked by Watertown residents who filled out suggestion slips and submitted them in boxes placed at the library, high school, and other local spots around town.
“We asked people what they liked about Watertown, what’s important in the town to them, and asked them to tell stories about their time here,” Jameson said, noting that the survey drew more than 100 responses.
The end result features the things that residents agree best define their town. The mural shows historic buildings like the Commander’s Mansion on Talcott Avenue and the Arsenal buildings, and also nods to the trolleys that rumbled through town before they were replaced with MBTA buses. The Deluxe Town Diner in Coolidge Square and various Armenian shops receive a prominent space, while a breathtaking scene of the Charles River snakes through the western side of the piece, leading into Victory Field.
Bernstein held up a 5-foot-long sheet of paper that sketches out the mural’s design foot by foot, showing how the scenes simulate a bike ride across Watertown.
“I had to leave a lot of stuff out — not everything would fit,” he said. “You think you have all this space with 230 feet, but then you get out here and find these already take up a lot.”
The project should be completed by the end of this month, Bernstein said, and there is a ribbon-cutting event tentatively planned for the afternoon of Sept. 18.
“We want to celebrate the hard work these kids have done,” he said.
For more information on the mural, click on the blog link on the town committee’s website, www.watertownbikeped.org.