Whether approaching the Antrim Town Hall from the north, south, east or west, look upwards and you will see an 8-foot square mural illustrating life in Antrim. The history of these murals and how they were created goes back to the building of Town Hall in 1893-1894.
The building itself was designed to be big and grand enough to accommodate the many needs of a rapidly growing community, nit he least of which was a town clock that could be seen from Goodell Company to the high school as people hurried along Main Street on their daily errands. The building would include an imposing tower with ample bays for four clock faces. Unfortunately, it was discovered too late that a clock of that size would require a much longer space for the necessary weights, and it had to be placed in the newly constructed Presbyterian Church across the street, which had a higher tower that could accommodate the mechanism.
For over a century the town has paid the church an annual rental fee; residents have enjoyed the convenience of a central village clock, but the tower in the Town Hall gave only blank stares until 1994.
At the 1993 town meeting, the Historical Society suggested that the year 1994 be designated to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the flowering of Main Street, and a committee was appointed to make plans for a gala 12-day celebration in August. The Town Hall was one of four notable buildings which had made an appearance on Main Street in 1894, and Dotti Penny introduced the idea of creating murals to fill in the blank spaces on the tower. The committee readily accepted this plan, and soon four local artists--Russ and Gif Russell, Barbara Shea and Gaye McNeil--agreed to take part in the project.
How did they do it?
Now came the hard part. Designing the four scenes was easy, but how would they go about transferring them to 8-foot plywood squares? In the middle of winter, where was a place big enough to accommodate four huge easels plus working space.
Without a model to copy--apparently nowhere else had the problem of decorating an already existing tower occurred--the artists had to create the process from the first steps to the finished product. Fortunately, Russ Russell had had billboard painting experience, and he knew the kinds of materials to use that would insure preservation of the finished murals. They would be subject to the vagaries of New England weather, hopefully for many years.
The Fire Station
After investigating several locations, the artists found a place to work at the fire station. Peter Moore and a crew of firemen put together four 9-foot easels and platforms with materials donated by Edmund's Hardware and Antrim Lumber Company and cleared a space where they could paint on a daily basis if need be.
The four scenes decided upon were to reflect the four seasons of the year: Barbara Shea's four churches in spring; Gaye McNeil, and old-fashioned 4th of July; and the Russells would work together on a fall scene at Gregg Lake and ice-skating on the Great Brook behind the Town Hall. By now Lois Harriman was involved, and she organized a corps of artist assistants who helped with the preliminary painting.
The Painting Process
The artists gridded their drawings onto brown paper (this was the enlarging process) and then the paper was "ponced", using a Middle Ages technique to create patterns with small holes. The sketches were then transferred onto the plywood by patting ground charcoal into the patterns.
After the assistants completed the underpaintings, the serious work of the five artists began. They worked at least three hours a day, six days a week throughout May, June and July, despite interruptions from fire and ambulance calls, to complete the murals before the August celebration. Framing and electrical preparation by the firemen/ carpenters were the finishing touches. An open house was held so that townspeople could see the paintings close up before they were actually put in place on the tower. Needless to say, a project of this magnitude had generated a lot of interest and many people came to admire and wonder.
The visitors were not the only ones to wonder, for now a crucial point had been reached. How would the artwork ever be raised to its final destination? Peter Moore contacted the Public Service Company of New Hampshire, and under the heading of civic volunteerism, they agreed to tackle a job with no precedent and probably unforeseen difficulties.
The Final Step
On the morning of August 3, 1994, two Public Service crews came with aerial booms to lift the murals and bolt them into place. Main Street was closed to traffic, but there was no shortage of sidewalk engineers cheering them on. The high voltage wires presented a difficulty, as did the pitched roof of the extended building where Barbara's church scene was located, facing north. But in time the valiant workers solved the problems and the murals were solidly anchored down.
The final touches came when Phil Dwight and Bob Allison repaired the louvres and installed the lighting. The Selectmen now have the responsibility of care and maintenance of the murals which are the crowning glory of the renovated Town Hall.