ALTON — Anne Farley Gaines was painting names on a board just minutes before a ribbon-cutting ceremony began Saturday morning at Grassroots Grocery, 415 Ridge St.
The occasion was the official presentation of “Abundance,” a mural that Gaines and eight Principia College art students created with the help and support of the community.
The mural is named for — and depicts — the wealth of wildlife, food, farmland and community spirit in the Riverbend. Each of the students’ images, along with a few others, is incorporated in the mural.
“I still have six panels I want to install. I’m a bit compulsive about how something materializes. When I leave a project, I want to know I’ve done the best I can,” Gaines said. The extra panels include a dove with an olive branch, a sumac bush, a yellow pelican and prairie grass and flowers.
Gaines is a Chicago artist who has created other murals in paint and mixed media. A 1976 Principia alumna, she was invited to become a visiting faculty member and to teach a class in public art. When she went looking for a location for a public mural, she found it at Grassroots Grocery.
“Duncan Martin, my department chair, suggested I get in touch with Penny Schmidt,” Gaines said. “Her father was one of my professors and I was happy to reconnect with her.”
Schmidt put Gaines in touch with Dennis Scarborough, owner of the grocery’s building. He didn’t want anything permanent, so quarter-inch HardieBacker cement board was used. The boards were cut, painted, then bolted to the south wall.
If you look closely, you can see how some pieces seem to fit together like a puzzle.
“I thought it would be fun. Square pieces would be boring. This allows for surprises and imagination,” said Gaines of some of the more than 50 jagged-edged panels. Others with curved edges contribute to the mural’s fluid design, especially the vertical line of waterfowl that draws the eye upward. Glass and stone mosaic pieces add texture.
“I wanted it to be a thing of beauty, color and texture. I thought the theme of abundance could be all-encompassing of the area,” said Gaines about her initial plan for the mural’s design.
Abundance echoes in Principia College’s motto: “As the sowing, the reaping.”
“It’s a simple equation. What we receive is in direct proportion to what we give,” the college’s website states.
“Wheat is a symbol of Principia,” Gaines said. “(College president) Jonathan Palmer, Cindy McCoy and I held a sheaf of wheat tied with a blue mosaic ribbon Cindy made as it was drilled into the wall.”
The inclusion of the “Victory” statue at the top of the Lovejoy Memorial monument was important to the project, symbolizing the diversity of the community and the power of art to bring people together to support a cause.
Caleb “Bucky” Brewer is a freshman at Principia. Already interested in art, the 19-year-old signed up for Gaines’ class.
“She had a general plan but we could go from there. Each of us did our own panel and helped with the others, too,” he said. His contribution includes a mosaic snake beneath an apple tree.
“We’re very excited that our first community outreach project is nearing completion. It’s beautiful and depicts the cooperation we have found through working on the Grassroots Grocery project. Working with Principia and Jacoby Arts has been great,” said Christine Favilla, co-project manager of the Grassroots Grocery campaign.
“She’s a force. This would not be done without Anne,” said Alton Mayor Brant Walker just before cutting the red ribbon.
“It’s more than a mural itself. It’s a gathering of ideas and thoughts with a purpose,” said Jackie Burns, professor in the college’s sociology-anthropology department. “It’s an example of Anne’s abundance of love and energy.”