LINCOLN — On a recent rainy day in Lincoln, the landscape around Garland’s Bridge on Lincoln Gap Road was awash with muted earth tones — gray sky, brown banks laden with dark vegetation, black water.
But following a well-trodden footpath down the riverbank to a favorite local swimming hole beneath the bridge revealed a more striking and brightly hued scene.
On the abutments underneath Garland’s Bridge, a colorful mural depicting people of all ages from the Lincoln community had recently been completed. Lincoln painter Rory Jackson led a group of 24 area children in the creation of the mural, which was offered as a three-week art camp through late July and early August.
Silhouettes of local people farming, reading, painting and walking are now splashed across the once-stark cement abutments, which until a few weeks ago bore graffiti messages that were, in Jackson’s words, “not very nice.”
“It allows youth in the area to take ownership of our community spaces,” Jackson said of the mural.
The camp was run in three weeklong sessions, with different groups of area young people taking part in each. For the first two days, each group captured images of Lincoln residents by inviting them to stand before a projector, then tracing their shadows to create life-sized stencils. Then — between taking ample breaks to swim — the groups moved into the painting stage, putting the stencils on to the walls, adding extra coats of durable deck paint and, on the last day, painting the background.
“The background gives the figures a three-dimensional value — they can stand up in the background,” Jackson said. “We overlapped a lot of the figures, to show that in a community like this, when people touch each other they leave a mark, a little bit of themselves on each other. And the colors change them.”
Jackson, a professional artist who paints and teaches art classes in his studio on Main Street in Bristol, had experimented with a similar concept last year for an exhibition that was shown at the Edgewater Gallery in Middlebury, using stencils from the shadows of his fellow community members to create works of art.
Then, while swimming at Garland’s Bridge with his family, he noticed both the graffiti on the wall and the potential that the wide swaths of gray cement had as a place to make art.
“We had been swimming down here, and I looked around and thought, ‘This is a great canvas,’” Jackson said. “And hopefully, if we put something beautiful there, anyone with creativity would let it be.”
Jackson approached Lincoln Town Clerk Sally Ober, who, he said, helped him through the process of seeing a public art project come to fruition.
One of the stipulations was that the young artists take care not to splash paint on rocks supporting the bridge’s abutments, bedrock that geologists now believe to be among the oldest rocks in the state of Vermont. (Not a drop was spilled.)
A conceptual design was presented to the Lincoln selectboard, insurance was purchased, neighboring landowners were notified and the board gave Jackson permission to move forward.
Ober observed that the mural’s creation stage was, in itself, a community-building experience.
“All the while, Rory’s students have been able to enjoy summertime in the outdoors,” Ober said in a public letter to the Lincoln community. “The artists have been swimming in the New Haven River under the bridge and interacting with community members as they watch the progress of this collaborative creation.”
Next summer, Jackson is considering continuing the camp and the beautification of the popular community gathering space, by creating mosaics over the bulbous patches of cement that the bridge’s architects seem to have left, rather carelessly, over the rocks (presumably, before the rocks were known to be noteworthy).
Throughout the coming years, the mural will doubtlessly be a bright spot in every seasonal landscape for the Lincoln community.
“I see this piece of art as a way of celebrating the different generations of community members around us, who make a difference by their colorful contributions to our world,” Ober said. “When you look at the artwork, you will see that the people of different generations overlap and touch each other, much like we all do every day.”