Beauty in the wind: Downtown Milford, Inc. teams with local artists to create new designs for the Riverwalk

Gilberto Rodriguez holds up his painted sail to be displayed along the Mispillion Riverwalk with other sails designed by local artists. The Chronicle/Jennifer Antonik

A new Downtown Milford, Inc. initiative will have beauty waving in the wind when new sails are installed along the Riverwalk.

The sails, supplied by DMI and painted by local artists thanks to a grant through the Milford Lions Club, will depict local subject matters like Riverwalk scenes or nature typically found while walking along the path.

DMI also supplied the paint brushes, paint and a protective clear coat to ensure the project’s success.

“We’ve got visitors. Every year, we’ve got more people coming in. We want to have a nice place with color on the streets. That’s why I’m doing this,” local artist Gilberto Rodriguez said. “It brings more life to the town. It’s welcoming.”

Mr. Rodriquez, a member of Mispillion Art League and Gallery in downtown Milford, joined with other local artists in designing and painting a community-wide mural several years ago through DMI, as well, helping to create a multi-cultural image that decorated the outer side wall of Arena’s.

“I want to see my work hanging somewhere where people can see it. For me, the best thing is for others to see my paintings,” he said.

Community-wide art project

The sail painted by Mr. Rodriquez will join about 20 others along the Mispillion Riverwalk. One of those is painted by local artist Cathy Walls who previously painted a boat for the Art on the Riverwalk Tour with the help of local student Carlo Rodriquez.

“The sail shaped banners are a nod to the shipbuilding heritage of Milford. Having artists paint them speaks to the fact that Milford has a strong arts and culture community,” she said. “My hope is that by adding color and unique works of art downtown, visitors will be drawn to our lovely little arts district, shop our stores, dine and visit the galleries and theater.”

Downtown Milford, Inc. Executive Director Murrie Zlotziver holds up a sail painted by local artist Cathy Walls. Around 20 sails will be painted and placed along the Mispillion Riverwalk for visitors and residents alike to admire. The Chronicle/Jennifer Antonik

Ms. Walls’ sail shows off a colorful Riverwalk scene of local people “doing everyday things,” she said.

“I needed a subject that was simple but stood out from a distance, so that image of a little boy, his puppy and that red balloon playing in the area of the Milford Farmers Market fit the bill. In the background, you see the amphitheater by the library on one side of the banner. On the other side of the banner, you see the farmers market, the DMI kiosk, the downtown clock and the Riverfront Theatre. All iconic reference points in the historic district,” she explained.

Six of the painted banners will be created by students from within the Milford School District, one banner per school.

“[It’s] enforcing the idea that this is where people want to make their home. Hence: River town, art town, home town,” she added.

According to Mispillion Art League and Gallery Director Sonya Frey, celebrating the arts helps maintain that hometown feel in any downtown.

“We know that the arts helps revitalize small towns, downtowns. I think the world as a whole is kind of shifting from everything being machine made. People are appreciating things being handmade again. Which, of course, from an artist’s standpoint is wonderful,” she said.

“People used to be able to make a living making art. So, hopefully, that trend to buying handmade will continue and maybe more artists will be able to make a decent living selling their art. Human beings are designed to create art in one way or another. I can’t imagine a world without art. Everything you look at was designed by someone. It’s an innate quality. I think it’s very important. Why would you not want to be surrounded by beauty, whatever you think beauty is.”

Businesses have also been asked to participate in this beautification project with smaller sails purchased for $200 each. They can decorate their sales however they wish.

“This concept came out of the DMI design committee. We wanted to do something a little different for the downtown,” DMI Executive Director Murrie Zlotziver said.

“We used canvas, artist canvas. First State Manufacturing was kind enough to do the manufacturing of them. We worked with them in terms of sizing them up, and they did a great job.”

With an emphasis on creativity, he says the project has been very successful. The sails will be unveiled together in mid-May, hopefully during a community-wide picnic, he added.

“We’re just happy to play a part,” Mr. Rodriguez said. “We have something to offer. If you give me an empty wall, I’m going to paint it. This is a nice way to give to the community.”

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