Sharon Leichsenring of Trumbull sort of knew what type of mural the owner of Milford Boat Works would want to see on the outside of the Ship Store because she’d spent a good amount of time at the Milford marina during her previous career.
When she was a sign painter who painted names on boats, many at Milford Boat Works, Leichsenring knew the area and knew Nancy Bennett, marina owner.
So among the submissions she put together for the second in a series of Milford murals was the one that Bennett ultimately selected, a seaside sailboat scene, full of color and boats.
Members of the Milford Fine Arts Council joined city leaders and artists recently to officially celebrate the new mural at 2 High Street with wine and cheese and speeches about the importance of public art.
Paige Miglio of Milford started the project about two years ago, using an earlier project in Milford called “Hidden Murals” as inspiration. That project saw artists paint murals in various parts of the city, such as one on the side of Brec and Sandy Morgan’s house in the Bayview Beach area.
But that project stalled. When Miglio restarted it, she took it in a slightly different direction, pushing for murals on very public places so they would immediately grab people’s attention when they entered at key city entry points or drove in some of the more central locations in Milford.
The first mural was painted on the side of the Bridge House Restaurant in Devon and greets motorists as they drive into Milford from Stratford.
The project is moving a bit more slowly than she would have liked. Her goal is to see 20 to 30 murals around Milford, but the economy and transitions at the Fine Arts Council have hampered that a bit.
“I’d like to see six downtown,” Miglio said, noting that a mural is planned for the interior of the Colony Grill when it opens. Another one will be outside Peter and Susan Spalthoff’s building on Broad Street on the wall that faces the new Frosty Twist frozen yogurt shop. There is also a mural planned on the Yankee Professional building downtown, and 1 New Haven Avenue.
But while she’s a little disappointed in the pace, she’s thrilled with the art. About the second mural, Miglio said, “I love it. It really pops.”
Nancy Bennett said the artwork takes an otherwise ugly building that is part of her marina site and gives it some character.
“It’s a definite improvement,” she said. “And wait until it snows. It will just pop off the building.”
Leichsenring said she had to learn some things about sailboats as she spent about two weeks creating the mural. She had to learn, for example, which way a sail would lean in a certain situation so she could render the art correctly.
She made some changes as she went along, including adding a small power boat to the otherwise sailboat-dominated scene. She even painted the likeness of Bennett into the small boat.
While the original plan was to paint the mural directly on the building, the walls weren’t ideal for that because some of the exterior paint was peeling. So she got some advice from Brec Morgan, who painted a number of murals in South Norwalk, and decided to paint the piece on material that she said was like painting on canvas, and then attach it to the building.
“The way it worked I could have actually painted at home and then brought it here, but I wanted to be in the community,” Leichsenring said.
With a top coat over the acrylic paints she used, the mural should last a long time, she said.
Leichsenring made the change from being a commercial sign painter to pursuing her true passion, painting murals, about 14 years ago. She has a studio in her home in Trumbull, and she’s traveled as far as Texas to paint murals, which she primarily creates in people’s homes.
Van Parker, the new director of the Milford Fine Arts Center, said he’d like to see as many murals created in Milford as possible. While the themes of the art will likely all be different, they will have something to do with the city and will therefore represent what Milford is all about, he said.
“You don’t see this in many towns,” Parker said. “It takes government, the arts and the people: It’s a combination.”
Public art helps to identify a community, said Brec Morgan, the former sign painter turned private artist who sailed around the world by himself about three years ago.
He talked about the Statue of Liberty in New York and explained that the statue is a very large symbol of the area and the country. In Milford the public art like the statues on the green are local symbols. The murals will be yet another.
“This mural has people going by and making them smile,” Morgan said. “They become symbols for the community.”