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My Turn: Here’s the story behind that sidewalk art

Leslie Skimming’s letter to the editor about the sidewalk art outside Gibson’s Bookstore (“Unattractive,” Monitor, Feb. 25) made me wince, but it’s an opportunity to tell a pretty interesting story.

As we were planning our new store, we knew that Concord’s Complete Streets redesign was also in the works. There was no point putting in a real sidewalk in 2013 only to have it destroyed in 2014, so the contractor left the front of the building as black asphalt. But when we opened in September, we realized just how stark and dull such a large expanse of black asphalt could be. It really did not do justice to our beautiful new building.

Steve Duprey and Jon Chorlian, who developed the building, asked me to bring our design consultant Kate Whouley back into the project. The mission: to do something interesting with black asphalt that would also be inexpensive and that we wouldn’t really mind seeing destroyed in less than a year’s time.

Whouley’s immediate suggestion was to enlist the aid of Susan York, the Maine artist who designed and painted the beautiful mural in our kids’ section. (It’s a fun and frankly breathtaking depiction of various cats from children’s picture books.) York and Whouley put their heads together, and York came up with a plan for the sidewalk that was intricate, beautiful and way too expensive.

I wish we could have done it; I wish the people of Concord could have seen it. But it really was too ambitious for the need, in every way.

Plan B was what we have today. It’s a project called “Connections,” and to my mind it is whimsical, a great conversation starter and a perfect way to turn what had looked like urban blight into something fun. “Connections” expresses what we at the bookstore are all about, and our neighbors – the great lawyers at Orr & Reno, hypersmart software developers at Bittware and the caring folk at AARP, among many others – share that perspective. Here’s what York had to say about it:

“While thinking about how to activate the black asphalt sidewalk space at the Love Your Neighbor building in Concord, N.H., I couldn’t help but think about Connections. How people form groups, families, friends and how some people end up or prefer to be alone. How a brief connection can have profound impact, or how the impact is not what we believe it is at all. How ideas and feelings are shared and spread.

“Using highway striping paint, I graphically represented those ideas through various shapes of different sizes and colors. However, hidden within the shapes, using airport quality reflective glass bead, I embedded stars, spirals and lines that tell the hidden inner story of the connections, which can only be seen at night or in certain angles of sunlight. The use of light and glass bead reveals the quality of a burning idea while simultaneously representing the spark of life that we all carry within regardless of our outward shape or size.”

That all sounds pretty intellectual. But I also have to say that the children love it. It looks like a big bright game of hopscotch to them – when it’s not covered up by snow.

I hope Skimmings will come back down and give our sidewalk another chance. It was a generous and clever gift from Duprey – who rarely misses an opportunity to be generous and clever – to the neighborhood and to the people of Concord. And I hope that everyone who hasn’t seen York’s wonderful mural inside the bookstore will come have a look. It is truly special.

(Michael Herrmann is the owner of Gibson’s Bookstore on South Main Street in Concord.)

I work next door to Gibson's and saw some children hopping from painted object to painted object earlier this week. Their father was taking picures of them while they were enjoying the various shapes and colors on the sidewalk. It was fun to watch. And the mural inside Gibson's is spectacular. It is fun in every way.

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