By Mike LaBella
---- — It’s an eye-catcher, for sure.
Visitors to the Bradford Rail trail who pass by the back of Arthur Sharp’s True Value hardware store can’t help but notice the handiwork of Haverhill High School students.
Guided by a professional mural artist, the students created scenes of nature sprinkled with plants and wildlife you might encounter along the trail. Hawks, eagles, geese and turkey vultures soar above tranquil scenes dotted by deer and beavers and turkeys, a fox and other animals, transforming what was a blank wall into a stunning vision of nature.
Even more art is planned for the trail, as the ultimate goal is to expand this walking and biking path and create a loop that will carry visitors from one side of the river to the other. Eventually the trail may be extended into Groveland. The Team Haverhill and Friends of the Bradford Rail Trail organizations have proposed incorporating even more art into the trail.
The mural that students worked on from January to May under the guidance of local artist Elizabeth Persing was installed on the back of the store last week. An official dedication is planned for October.
The mural is drawing the attention of people visiting the trail.
A dozen students with a flair for art participated in an Access 21 after-school project in which they gathered twice a week at the Burnham School and worked in a basement cafeteria converted to a temporary art studio.
Tina Fuller, director of the city’s Access 21 program, said the project combined community service, art and biology.
Working on 12 4-by-8-foot panels, the students painted images of native plants such as sumac trees and cattails and animals such as deer, foxes, coyotes, great blue herons, eagles, turtles and turkey vultures.
“We contacted the city’s conservation office and Mass Audubon for ideas as to what to include and we also thought about animals and plants we have seen ourselves in the area,” Fuller said.
The panels were recently mounted on the back wall of Arthur Sharp, which is next to the rail trail, creating an 80-foot-long by 15-foot-high mural.
The Haverhill Foundation for Excellence in Education paid a painting contractor to prepare and prime the building’s back wall. A group of adult volunteers painted the background and did some repair work on the windows and sliding rear door. Fuller said Patrick Lane, the store’s owner, was pleased with how the mural looked and told her he might put a picture of it inside his store as a way to bring attention to the mural and the rail trail.
Persing was chosen as the Artist in Residence for the project and was assisted by Ellen Mullane, who teaches art at Haverhill High. Haverhill High School art teacher Susan Blim also contributed to the mural and was recently working with students at the high school to create three-dimensional images of trees out of metal.
One of the “trees’’ will be used to disguise a furnace vent pipe that runs up the back wall of the store, while the other trees will be attached to sections of the mural.
The next step in the project is to create a key to the plants and animals on each panel so people can identify what they might encounter along the trail, Fuller said.
Money for the project comes from a $5,000 grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and a $1,508 grant from the Haverhill Cultural Council, as well as from other sources.
Access 21 is an after-school program at Haverhill High School funded by a 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
Formula for a mural
Created by students, their art teacher and a professional artist
80 feet long and 15 feet tall
Displays images of animals and plants which rail trail visitors might see
Paid for with $6,508 in grants