Mural Highlights East Liverpool’s History, Future

EAST LIVERPOOL, Ohio — A colorful mural that intertwines the city’s history and future is being painted on a concrete retaining wall along Bradshaw Avenue.

Students and a professor from Youngstown State University are already busy with the project, which was paid for with donated funds, according to Mayor Greg Bricker. 

The idea for the mural was initiated last spring when resident Sue Ingram-Watkins spearheaded a volunteer cleanup of the area around the wall, part of a city-wide cleanup event in April. At that time, Ingram-Watkins commented on her Facebook page she wanted to see a mural painted on the wall that would “truly be a community effort to recognize the East Liverpool of the past.”

Unfortunately, Ingram-Watkins was unable to see her dream realized, having succumbed to COVID-19 just two months after the cleanup. However, according to YSU art professor Dragana Crnjak, the final panel of the mural will feature Ingram-Watkin’s portrait as a tribute to her idea. 

Professor Dragana Crnjak gives Youngstown State University graduate Rachel Hritz some advice on color as they work on a mural in East Liverpool.

Work on the mural began last week with Crnjak and students Rachel Hritz, Mia Mondora and Lindsay DeLulla filling in an outline they decided on after searching through a number of photographs from the Museum of Ceramics, online sources and other photographs.

“The ceramics museum was amazing. We found reference images and all four of us started talking about what we liked and what we didn’t like,” Crnjak said. “There was a lot of decision-making to (the final design).”

The color palette being used on the mural is loosely based on Fiesta ware, which was first produced in 1936 across the river at the Homer Laughlin China Co. Today renamed The Fiesta Tableware Co., the pottery still turns out the popular dishware, employing many area residents.

The artists traveled to the Newell, W. Va. pottery to see where and how Fiesta ware is produced, and Crnjak said, “It was very impressive. It was really great.”

Crnjak said, “Obviously, we needed beautiful colors, so we sat down and looked at a lot of colors before selecting a palette. We’re really happy with the selection.”

The city was once known as the pottery capital of the nation, so the artists naturally included several scenes featuring that industry.

Youngstown State University student Lindsay DeLulla adds some color to the mural on Bradshaw Avenue in East Liverpool. 

Starting at one end with a bottleneck kiln and a long, low building Hritz said they believe is representative of most of the area’s former potteries, the design continues down the wall with a potter’s wheel, colorful pieces of Feista ware, a sternwheeler and the Newell Bridge, which has carried potters back and forth across the river to work for generations.

It proceeds on to the East End monument, which designates East Liverpool as the Point of Beginning to the Northwest Territory and a view of Fourth Street and its historic buildings, gracefully moving toward the end of the wall with a band of flowers interspersed with pottery plates.

“The bright, brilliant colors of the flowers blossoming will represent the future,” Crnjak explained. 

Throughout the entire mural, the Ohio River flows from end to end, with Crnjak saying it represents a “main resource for the city.”

The final panel featuring Ingram-Watkins’ portrait has not yet been drawn. The wall itself was pressure washed and primed prior to being painted, Hritz said. Once completed, the mural will be clear coated with Mural Shield which will enable it to be washed off if someone should paint or otherwise mark it while also protecting it from sun damage.

One end of the wall consisting of a set of steps used to access a hillside neighborhood above Bradshaw is in need of repair, and the artists said the mayor has indicated someone will be coming this week to work on those repairs.

Meanwhile, painting should be complete by Thursday, weather permitting, according to Crnjak, who said the temperature has to be right for the paint to dry and the seal coat to be applied. Latex exterior paint is being used because it is the most weather-proof, Hritz said.

The colorful hues of popular Feista ware is featured prominently on a mural being painted on Bradshaw Avenue in East Liverpool.

Crnjak’s students have completed other murals, including one recently finished on Andrews Avenue in Youngstown highlighting that area’s industrial history. In that case, the mural project was part of the students’ coursework, but here they are working as independent, commissioned artists.

Hritz has actually graduated from YSU and is job seeking with hopes of doing more murals. Crnjak said she believes there are plans by city officials to paint murals on the freeway underpasses, and she and her students will have to provide sketches for that work.

Her first sojourn to the river city has proven inspirational for the art professor.

“It’s really charming. I can see where there are opportunities for young people. It’s very cozy; it would be so charming to come in and spend a day,” she said. “Everywhere I drive here, I think, ‘Here would be a great place for a mural,’ ‘This would be a great place for a mural.’ It really helps with the economy. It lifts up the environment for sure. I find it very satisfying to contribute just a little bit.”

She said many people have stopped by with praise for the project.

“It gets people excited,” Hritz said.

Murals were featured prominently in a recent unveiling of the preliminary urban revitalization being planned by Urban Design Associates hired by the city. In addition to the Bradshaw Avenue mural, another mural is being eyed for the side of Bricker’s Cafeteria, owned by Mayor Bricker.

A meeting of the city’s Design Review Board is set for 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, during which members will consider a certificate of appropriateness for Bricker’s proposal for the mural.

This mural reminiscent of postcards from an earlier era could soon grace an exterior of Bricker’s Cafeteria in East Liverpool.

According to plans provided by Planning Director Bill Cowan, the mural will depict the words, “East Liverpool” painted by muralist Ruston Baker who Bricker said has been informed to use a historical color palette.

In his plans, Bricker said the mural will require no more than two weeks to complete and will be “a great addition to our building.”

The plans explain there will be scaffolding set up in the alleyway for the project but it will not require closure of the alley or any hindrance to traffic.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.