HONESDALE, PA — The mural painters have a really big canvas—the side of a brick building at 7th and Main streets in Honesdale, and as the artists work, a rural farm scene emerges—a red barn in the distance under a brilliant blue sky, a contented brown cow in the foreground staring at passersby, a farmhouse surrounded by fields of dazzling green, a bounty of vibrant fruits and vegetables spilling into the foreground, and at the bottom of the canvas, a waving banner where the words “Wayne County Grown” will be painted. (More about that in a minute.)
On Sunday there was a good turnout of painters—a mix of talented local artists and average citizen volunteers. The on-site coordinator, Jeff George, a local professional artist and member of the Wayne County Arts Alliance (WCAA), gives each newly arrived volunteer a specific section to work on, helps each novice mix paint colors, and demonstrates how to paint with a steady hand. Soon a line of painters is hard at work.
“We get a lot of shout-outs when we’re working here,” George reports. “Someone driving by will holler, ‘Lookin’ good,’ or ‘Hey, you missed a spot.’”
The mural was conceived by a group of Wayne County farmers who are members of the statewide Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA for short). As the project came together, the farmers received plenty of guidance, encouragement and hands-on help from some members of the WCAA.
The project was funded by a grant from a small private foundation.
“The idea of the mural,” explains Billy Templeton who, along with Amanda Avery Templeton and Susan Klikus, wrote the original grant proposal, “is to highlight both the area’s strong agricultural roots and to show the future that we hope to see take place here. With PASA’s eyes on sustainability, we are looking to build a community that’s based on sustainable farming practices here in Wayne County, using that concept to bring a new era of farming here.”
Sustainable farming is based on following natural, chemical-free growing methods; protecting the soil from erosion and loss of nutrients; and avoiding groundwater contamination. But that’s not all; sustainable farming also seeks to create a living (sustainable) wage for farmers and farm workers and to rebuild rural economies and nurture strong local communities.
“Wayne County PASA has a core group of roughly 30 to 40 farming members,” Templeton said. “The majority are farmers looking to share their knowledge and to help each other with farming, but we also want to spread the message of sustainable farming practices.” The same grant also helped build several raised bed garden plots at Honesdale High School for use by some biology and consumer sciences classes, and helped purchase a generous supply of books about sustainability and sustainable agriculture for the school’s library.
George, the mural’s onsite coordinator, explained how the project came together.
“The first time we met was just to brainstorm,” he explained, “and then everybody went home and put something on paper.” At the next meeting they reviewed what major themes they had. “And then we picked a little bit of this and a little bit of that,” George continued. “It was more of a collaboration bringing all of the ideas together.”
How does he feel about the mural now?
“As an artist, I think every town should have public art,” he said. “it’s good for everybody—little kids, old people, everyone. If you have enough public art, it becomes a draw for the town.”
Painter and farmer Roger Hill, a member of both PASA and WCAA, talked about what he hopes people will take away from the mural. “I think people will recognize the landscape and be able to relate to it. A lot of it is very stylized, but I think people will recognize parts of it say, ‘this part is where I’m from.’” He also thinks the mural helps “bring the country to the downtown, in more ways than one.”
The painters will still be at work on the mural this weekend during the town-wide arts and music festival, Roots & Rhythm.