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Murals abound through cities and towns

A mural on the west exterior wall of Firetree Place features large sunflowers and children's portraits. Natalia Pilato and community artists painted the mural from photographs taken by children in the after-school photography program. KAREN VIBERT-KENNEDY/Sun-Gazette

The first known paintings from cave walls date back 45,000 years ago in Indonesia. Back then, there was intent to reflect the world seen around oneself.

That drive still persists today.

Our fair hamlets bear witness to who we are and who we honor with murals splashed across buildings and walls.

Throughout the West Branch Valley, murals tell stories that are rich and plentiful. Take yourself on a treasure hunt and you’ll strike it rich.

From Williamsport to Lock Haven to Jersey Shore to Lewisburg and elsewhere, these public art works are available for you to admire.

The largest area mural, Inspiration Lycoming, was painted by Michael Pilato, with the assistance of so many individuals and organizations in the Williamsport area. It is located outside The Bullfrog Brewery on West 4th Street in downtown Williamsport.

This mural grew from First Friday, an artistic reawakening in Williamsport that blossomed in 2001. Judy Olinsky, who moved to Williamsport in 1981 as an art teacher, says, “The people are wonderful and the art is beautiful. The artists and their work were here but not much of it was public.”

Olinsky spearheaded a campaign to encourage and showcase local artists, attract people to downtown and prompt local talent to remain. The efforts yielded outstanding results.

The 11,000-square-foot Inspiration Lycoming serves its name well.

Realistic images of 400 people who had a positive impact on the county and its residents were chosen through nominations by community members.

Carl Stotz, the founder of Little League Baseball, lumber baron Peter Herdic and moonshine purveyor Price Farrington are just a few of the many faces peering out from three walls.

Inspiration Lycoming is said to be the largest portrait mural in the world and includes several 3-D images

The murals of Williamsport offer a range of subjects and venues. They present tributes and honor the past. They mourn loss and celebrate hope. The murals denote special visits and commemorate brilliant discourse.

Fred Danielle, who co-owns Franco’s Restaurant in Williamsport with his sister, Maria, began brightening up the restaurant’s back entrance in 1999.

Artist Jeremiah Johnson painted the two closest to the entrance. The first, titled “Severing Ties,” was completed with the assistance of Elyse Kaplan.

“It was a couple weeks before I was to return to graduate school in Syracuse and I was sitting in Franco’s and overheard Fred talking about finding an artist for his project,” Jeremiah said. “I gave him my business card and it took off from there.”

Jeremiah’s second painting, which features a man and woman face-to-face, is titled “What Now?” and was painted in 2012.

A third painting on the wall was done circa 2006 by Christina Snook-Knor. It depicts a fanciful tree, birds and flowers.

“We’ve had so many people asking questions about the paintings over the years and have gotten so many good comments,” Fred said. “An interesting thing: You know graffiti often appears on the walls but noone has ever sprayed on the murals. We’re very happy about that. Shows respect, respect for the art.”

The Franco’s sign hanging beside the murals features a caricature of the Danielle’s late father, Alfredo, who established the restaurant.

“We used to go into New York, lower Manhattan, to do some buying and always stopped at DiPaulo’s in Little Italy for cheese,” relates Danielle. “Some guy was always in there sketching these caricatures and he did one of dad. So we had Dave of The Sign Shop paint it and we put it up there in the alley.”

Olinsky is elated to see public art growing throughout the city.

“First Fridays, the murals, all the artwork seems to make everyone feel happier, prouder. They have a sense of belonging. The community feels good about itself,” she says.

Along with its educational and cultural appeal, Lewisburg became even brighter when outdoor artwork appeared in Cherry Alley in 2002. Bob Albin, a local businessman who owns a building connected to the alley, wanted to beautify the dull cinder blocks with colorful murals. He contacted Jim Reid, an artist with a Lewisburg studio, about his idea. That was the beginning of Murals of Cherry Alley (MoCA).

Albin prepped and primed the walls that would become murals designed and painted by Reid.

“The artwork covers four buildings. Each mural is a tribute to at least one important 20th-century artist,” Reid explains. The artists represented include Henri Matisse, Alexander Calder, Roy Leichenstein, Joan Miro and Pablo Picasso.

Della Hutchinson, Lewisburg Arts Council president, noted an important detail, “Each mural has a small plaque with a QR code that, when scanned, takes you to a website with details about the artists who inspired that mural.”

Reid will participate in Lewisburg Arts Council’s Stroll through the Arts event set for November 6-14.

“Associates from XimRei Group have been instrumental in the execution of the MoCA project,” Reid offers. “Joanna Wiley, Samantha Wyvill, Gabe Strubis and Carrie Sterling have been key players.”

He also praised the support of Lewisburg Neighborhoods, The Woodstock Foundation, All-Star Bagels, Mondragon, and many individuals. Reid has continuously worked on the murals since 2020 and pending a grant from Bucknell University, plans to complete two more in the near future.

Of the nature of his mural artwork, Reid explains, “I wanted to captivate both 5-year-old children and professors of art history.”

There is a gofundme page set up for MoCA at www.gofundme.com/f/cherry-alley-to-modern- art-alley. As we experience the murals in our cities and towns, it’s interesting to reflect on their far reaching effects. Artistic, instructive, inspirational, spiritual, industrial, economic– all a boon to people and businesses.

Kathy Fought, a longtime Lycoming County resident said, “I like to go to places that look nice. That make you feel good to be there. Even just the colors in the paintings can brighten your day.”

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