WOONSOCKET – Her eyes are bright, her face is marked with a determined smile, and she looks at the world with her hands on her hips, assuring passers-by that this girl is moving.
This is the impression that Lincoln’s The Art of Life artists Charles Clear and Bonnie Lee Turner hoped to give by creating “Profiles in Courage,” a new 23-foot-tall mural overlooking downtown. The work was commissioned by Beacon Charter High School for the Arts for the side of its building at 320 Main St., across from the Stadium Theater.
“It turned that old brick wall covered in graffiti into a work of art,” Clear said, examining the nearly finished product last week.
Clear and Turner responded to a Beacon ad in March seeking artists to make an original mural. The school had experienced graffiti issues and hoped to stop the repeated appearances of vandals on the right side of its building. As the ad noted, the location was highly visible, a significant stretch of brick wall that is immediately seen by drivers as they turn the corner from Clinton Street onto Main Street.
Once selected, the two artists worked with a wall committee to come up with the design of the painting. With a figure of about two stories, the mural features the school’s slogan, “Accept, Create, Succeed”.
“We wanted to celebrate diversity and we wanted someone who had strength and confidence, who would represent the city, represent Beacon,” said Turner.
“It’s the model of what you want every student to be. Fearless and conquer the world, ”added Clear.
While the official title of the mural is “Profiles in Courage,” Turner compared the work to “Fearless Girl,” the New York statue of a young girl watching the charging bull on Wall Street. The young woman in the picture, she said, is meant to inspire confidence and celebrate the diversity of Beacon and the city in general.
“For me, it’s really powerful in the sense that it will make a statement,” she said.
So who is behind the figure depicted in the larger-than-life painting? Turner and Clear said they made the deliberate decision not to model the work on one student, choosing instead to use someone who could serve as a symbol for everyone. Nyla Armstrong, a Florida resident and a friend’s granddaughter, posed for the image that now dominates Main Street. Other figures in the painting, Turner said, were modeled after relatives and friends.
The team started in early August and finished the mural on Wednesday August 18, after two weeks of work. To access their workspace on a nearby rooftop, Clear and Turner had to crawl through a narrow window from a storage area on the third floor of the school. The worst, Turner said, was the heat, with the team taking a break for a few days when temperatures hit 95 degrees earlier this month.
“When it’s hot out there, add 10 or 20 degrees here,” she said.
Once on the roof, the team worked from a ladder perched above Main Street. Clear finished most of the upper parts of the painting, as Turner said she wasn’t thrilled with the height.
According to Samantha Baffoni, the school’s logistics and communications coordinator, the project was funded by a Growing Communities Initiative grant supported by the Citizens Bank Foundation and the Local Initiatives Support Corporation Rhode Island. A fresco committee made up of Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt, students, and various community members reviewed around 10 submissions for the project.
“We wanted something that really represents the community as a whole, but also the school community,” she said. “The image of the little girl standing is meant to represent someone who has hope for the future, who has power, who is diverse.”
Baffoni said the school wanted to embellish a section of the wall that had become an eyesore, but was unable to entrust the task to its student artists due to the height of the building.
The mural is the third that Turner and Clear have done in the city. In 2018, they painted a mural of children playing on a wall on East School Street, later returning to the nearby wading pool for a tropical scene. They also completed the mosaic visible on the altar of the Church of St. Agatha.
The two artists opened their studio, The Art of Life, in 1992. Turner said they had been busy during the pandemic, mainly painting a private mural in a house in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire.