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Hundreds of young students with paint brushes in hand took to Newton’s storefronts Saturday for the 20th annual Halloween Window Painting Contest. They adorned the windows of businesses across six of the city’s villages with spooky scenes of ghosts and graveyards, skeletons and jack-o-lanterns.
This year, 463 students in third through eighth grade registered for the event. Organizers assigned each child a street-facing window at one of 215 participating local stores.
“We’re focusing on our youngest residents,” said Paula Gannon, director of Newton’s Cultural Development, who organized the event.
The competition took place in Auburndale, West Newton, Newtonville, Newton Highlands, Nonantum, and Newton Centre.
Within each village, participants competed for first, second and third place, as well as “Most Comical,” within four grade groupings. Third, fourth, and fifth graders were separated by grade, while sixth, seventh, and eighth graders competed against one other.
“It’s fun to kind of get out and see how creative the kids can be,” said Janet Razulis, who served as the judge coordinator. “Judging should be fun as well as painting should be fun.”
Three days after the children painted the windows, participants, family, and friends gathered in Newton City Hall for the awards ceremony. Gannon announced over 130 winners across the six participating villages, ranging from chilling landscapes to petrifying portraits.
The contest’s co-founders, Barbara Litwin and Meryl Kessler, said they became friends at Scarsdale High School in New York. They had both competed separately in a similar competition in their town, and they said that served as a template for the tradition they began in Newton two decades ago.
“I just thought it was a perfect fit,” Litwin said of bringing window painting to the city.
Litwin and Kessler both credit Linda Plaut, former director of the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs, with helping to establish the citywide tradition. Plaut died of cancer in February.
“In every project that she took on, she always had your back,” Litwin said.
The City of Newton collaborates on the Window Painting Contest with Newton Community Pride, a nonprofit organization that raises money for “civic, arts and cultural events” around the city, according to its president, Howard Sholkin.
“We’re hand-in-glove,” Sholkin said of Pride’s work with Newton. “Neither of us could be as successful without the other.”
After helping tape off the 20-by-36 inch rectangle required for each painting, many parents sat back in the portable chairs they had brought with them to observe their children’s handiwork. Several students completed their paintings in layers, arriving early in the day to paint the background and then returning to add design and detail after the first coat dried.
While some of the student artists are active in sports — in some cases taking a break from painting for soccer games — organizers said one draw to this contest for many is a welcome reprieve from athletic competition.
“A lot of events are very sports-oriented,” Kessler said. “This is a large-scale event that offers young people something other than the, you know, sports opportunity.”
Alexis Krasnow, 9, a third grader from Newton Highlands, took several weeks to plan her art, according to her father, David, who stood with her outside a storefront in Newton Centre while she painted.
Her work included parallel paintings that were nearly identical but had a few major differences. One painting featured people sitting on a bench with blue sky, green leaves on a tree, and a white bird overhead. The other showed three skeletons sitting on a bench with gray sky, bare tree branches, and a black bat overhead. She won second place among third graders in Newton Centre.
Lillian Smythe, 9, said she decided to base her piece in Newton Centre on a ghoulish text message conversation with one speaker sending emojis of a devil-like creature and a trident.
“I love painting and doing art, and painting on windows is really, really cool,” Smythe said.
Smythe also visited with Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller, who stopped by Newton Centre Saturday to survey the paintings. In an interview, Fuller said she was grateful for parents and volunteers for their support.
“Lots of neighbors are out and about,” she said. “This is one of the happy days in the city of Newton.”
Two community outreach officers from the Newton Police Department also made appearances, handing out candy to the students and speaking with participants. One of them, Brett Ferolito, said attending the event was a “no-brainer.”
“People don’t get to see police officers that often,” Ferolito said. “This is an opportunity for people to realize that we’re just normal guys.”
Several of the merchants involved also said they enjoyed the festivities.
“It’s one of our favorites,” said Amy Shih, owner of Just Next Door Cards and Gifts in Auburndale. “For the kids who are more artistic, it gives them an opportunity to shine.”
Gregg DiBiaso of Artitudes, an arts and crafts gallery in West Newton, said he hopes the contest serves as a stepping stone to greater interest in art.
“Being a participant is offering an easel space as well as being a participant and enjoying the end result,” DiBiaso said.
“I think it’s supporting, you know, the future of who we are.”