If you look at the brick wall on the side of a former synagogue in downtown Hartford on a dry day, you won't see much -- just a faded, barely visible outline of a tree. But spray some water on it and a big, leafy oak tree comes to life. Last month, artist Adam Niklewicz completed "The Charter Oak," a water-activated mural that depicts the massive tree, which is a symbol of the American spirit of independence. In order to make it water-activated, Niklewicz covered the brick surface surrounding the mural in water-repelling Rust-Oleum, while leaving the tree untreated.
Although the mural is water-activated, most rain storms wouldn’t do the trick — unless it was falling at just the right angle. So to ensure that the mural is visible, Hartford installed sprinklers — two above and three below — to soak the mural once per day, for about 20 minutes, according to the Hartford Courant. Depending on the humidity, the mural should remain visible for a few hours after the sprinklers are activated.
“Public art should embrace the existing environment and work to enrich reality,” writes Niklewicz in his artist statement. “The blank slates (almost screens) of the two downtown buildings invite visuals that give counterbalance (nature) and meaning (historical context). The image of the Charter Oak speaks to both.”
The mural is based on Charles De Wolf Brownell’s 1857 painting of the enormous tree, which fell during a storm in 1856. The mural challenges existing notions of what a mural can and cannot do, and it will help to revitalize a portion of downtown Hartford. In conjunction with the mural, “Walking Around a Tree,” a large-scale video of a young oak tree that revolves 360 degrees, will be projected on a nearby building.
photos © Erika Van Natta