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Monday, March 21, 2011

Book of Murals Captures Days Gone By

Rock Springs Park After Hours, oil on canvas, 102 x 53″ (Courtesy of Craig Wetzel)

Like many of you, I occasionally Google “Rock Springs Park” to find the latest news and images. Last December, this sentence popped up on my screen:

“The book begins with The Dentzel carousel at Rock Springs Park.”

I immediately thought it a review of Images of America: Rock Springs Park, since my book opens with a full-page image of the Dentzel. Excited to read what the reviewer had to say, I clicked on the East Liverpool Review link, and read on:

“The Wurlitzer plays, the gate opens and the carousel rocks as children jump onto the wooden deck.”

A lively description, and one I wish I had written, but those were not my words. Instead, I was delighted to discover the article by JO ANN BOBBY-GILBERT was about a newly released coffee table book.

The book, Come Home & Remember, is the result of a collaboration between Mary L. Tambellini, artist Craig Wetzel, and photographer David Pickens. Tambellini is the owner of Nentwick Convalescent Home in East Liverpool. In 1985 she commissioned Wetzel to paint murals on the walls of the home in an effort to give the residents a project to share with their visiting family members and as a way to capture memories of days gone by. The book includes mural samples and descriptions.

The mural project began when Wetzel was a newly graduated high school student. His paintings feature 70 scenes of the Upper Ohio Valley known to many as the “Pottery Capitol of the World.” Mural subjects include mills, potteries, railways, shipping docks, local businesses, and movie houses. Thompson Park, Beaver Creek State Park, and three of my favorite park, Rock Springs, are also featured.

On a new website, Wetzel says that he was “never particularly interested in being historically accurate (with his paintings)" but chose instead to capture the feeling of the moment. His murals of the Rock Springs carousel, upper mall area, and aerial postcard-style view seem almost dreamlike in their imagery.

The one drawback to the Images series, is that all the photographs, with the exception of the sepia-soaked cover, are black and white and limited in size. Wetzel’s portraits of the park, on the other hand, offer vibrant color and detail in a wall-sized format. The motion and excitement in these scenes elicit the familiar sounds and smells of the old amusement park to the viewer.

Evening at Rock Springs Park (detail), acrylic on canvas, 340 x 57″ (Courtesy of Craig Wetzel)

The Aeroplane Ride at night (seen above) may be more colorful and clean than the original subject, especially when considering the condition of the park following World War II. Wetzel explains his choice at craigwetzel.com, “This particular mural does not depict the ubiquitous peeling paint and general dilapidated setting so evident in many post-war photos of the park, as patrons spend their money in a never-ending and futile quest to forget their lives of quiet desperation. If photographs are any indication, the later years were wonderful only in the wishful memories of area residents.”

The Dentzel Carousel, Rock Springs Park, circa 1930. Acrylic on wallboard. 155 x 57 inches. (Courtesy of Craig Wetzel)

I love Wetzel’s work and appreciate his perseverance, attention to detail, and touch of whimsy. His paintings put me in mind of the America captured by Norman Rockwell but with the lighting and hard-edged geometry of Edward Hopper.
Nighthawks — Edward Hopper (1942)

Mostly, I just enjoy the fact that another young fan of local history is a part this dialogue. Each new conversation adds to the collective understanding and appreciation of all, providing everyone the ability to "Come Home & Remember" no matter where life has led them.

To view other images visit Craig’s website and at http://www.nentwickmurals.com/. The book is now available for purchase online and at the Mezzanine Mall on Fifth Street, the Alumni Association Clock Tower on Fourth Street for around $30.


Craig said...

Thank you for the post and I am pleased to have a small part in your wonderful blog. Through the years I have painted many scenes from the area but none have been more well received than those of Rock Springs Park. Though it closed before my recollection opened it must have been a truly magical place. Everyone should visit your blog and buy your book, and I will do my best to promote both.

Joseph A. Comm said...

Craig, I have no doubt your murals have brought a lot of happiness to folks at the convalescent home; not just because they evoke a simpler time, but for the fact that the residents and staff could share in the excitement of seeing each work in progress. It’s great to see that your 25-year labor of love is now reaching people beyond the walls of the home with the new book, website, and newspaper articles. You deserve that and MORE! (If there’s any way I can help in your next project, just let me know.)