On the corner of Hicks Avenue and Main Street in Medford sits a Prime Gas Station with a wall that is getting a major facelift.
For the last six weeks, Salem artist Juleen Jones has been working with Medford children after school to create a mural with the theme of “rediscovering America” that will transform a boring gray wall into a colorful masterpiece.
The mural, which will be installed permanently beginning at 10 a.m. on April 21, is a burst of vibrant flowers and butterflies. A Native American girl hides among the flowers, gazing at three incoming ships in the foreground — a subtle homage to the nearby Columbus Elementary School that many of the kids who worked on the mural attend.
“I was amazed at what the kids could do,” said Jones, who runs The Artist Touch in Salem. “I had the ability to instruct them, what to do to make it better, as they were working. And they do get better. With a little instruction, it’s amazing what people create.”
Jones designed the mural and sketched an outline on a 20-foot-by-50 foot piece of vinyl, so that it “essentially looked like a big coloring book.” The kids were then able to stretch and fold the canvas to paint the mural on a table or on the floor.
“It wasn’t very structured,” said Jones, who added that she gave the kids a lot of creative control. “I didn’t restrict it to realistic things. If they wanted an abstract flower, make it abstract. If they wanted it funky, do it funky. They could add bugs, beetles, butterflies. We were collaborating my art and their own visions.”
About 30 kids between ages 8 and 16 participated.
The mural is unique not only in the youth of its artists, but in the way it will be installed. When Jones began working out the logistics of having a student mural, she went to her friend, Boston-based artist Nate Swain.
Swain has done several murals in the area, many of which used the same vinyl “wrapping” technique that will be implemented with the Medford mural. This allows the artist to paint the mural off-site and then install it in a matter of hours.
Wrapping murals are also eco-friendly because the material is actually an old vinyl advertisement. The Medford mural was once an ad for the footwear company, Puma.
“You don’t want kids on scaffolding,” said Swain. “And it’s wonderful, recycling this good material that would have otherwise ended up in a landfill.”
Swain obtained the material from his work with Boston Building Wraps , a company that installs many vinyl ads and vinyl art pieces in the area.
Installation of the mural will be very quick and is only a matter of stretching the painted vinyl over the wall using a series of straps and anchors, then drilling it into the wall, careful to avoid wrinkles.
“It’s actually going over four windows,” Swain said. “But the vinyl is mesh, so you can see through it. It doesn’t block light, and goes over everything.”
A particularly famous example of this see-through vinyl is the art piece on the former John Hancock building in Boston, which Boston Building Wraps installed in only seven days in September 2015.
The Medford mural will be up in time for the Columbus students to see it on their way to school the Monday after April vacation.
“Right now it’s an ugly gray building,” Jones said. “When the kids come back, it will be a big surprise.”
The mural was funded by the City of Medford and the Medford Arts Council.Christina Bagni can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.