‘Murals are like covered bridges, people come out to see them’

  • The Warner Economic Development Committee unveiled a new mural across from the town hall on Oct. 10, 2021. Ben Domaingue / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 10/12/2021 5:22:01 PM

After nearly two tumultuous years, Warner’s Main Street has a new bright spot, despite the challenges local businesses have faced.

Over the weekend, the Economic Development Committee unveiled a massive 50-by-12-foot mural across the street from the town hall. It’s an early birthday present, commemorating the town’s 250th anniversary in 2024. It blends scenes of the past with those of the present.

Charles Albano, chairman of the three-year-old committee, said the mural is one of the ways the group is hoping to stimulate local businesses.

“Murals are like covered bridges, people come out to see them,” Albano said.

Manchester muralist Jyl Diane Dittbenner was selected to paint the mural, which was done in 4-by-8-foot sections in her studio. Some of the selected scenes were chosen because of their historic significance, while others reflect present efforts to be “a small but vibrant community,” Albano said.

Dittbenner’s work features historic scenes in black and white interspersed with brightly colored contemporary ones. Among the historical images are women operating telephone connections and men sawmilling wood, the train station and farming. To reflect the present community, jewel-toned graphics are included of live music at the Jim Mitchell Stage, the farmers market, fall foliage and various outdoor recreational activities.

Albano said Dittbenner worked closely with community partners and researched with the Warner Historical Society.

“She really did her homework,” Albano said.

The panel of eight judges, including several artists, town officials, a member of the Warner Historical Society and the owner of the wall, choose Bittbennner out of eight applications from New Hampshire artists. 

“Its a wonderful blending of various players in the community,” Albano said.

The Economic Development Committee raised about $10,000 to commission the painting. The New Hampshire Council of the Arts kicked in $3,750, while donations covered the rest. No taxpayer money was used, Albano said.

The pandemic added complications to the project, with many meetings taking place virtually instead of in person. Despite that, the mural was completed about a year after the call for applications went out.

“This is what makes Warner so special,” Albano said. “It’s a wonderful example of how the community comes together under challenging circumstances.”

Warner businesses, particularly its eateries, were hit hard by the pandemic and several changed owners and names.

Just a few months into the pandemic, Schoodacs coffeeshop owner Darryl Parker decided the coronavirus’ obstacles were too much. He  closed. That business was sold and has operated as Cafe One East since reopening. The cafe has been hosting live music on Sundays as well as serving up coffee drinks and pastries throughout the week. 

The Foothills, a 15-year old restaurant in town, got by on take-out and Paycheck Protection Program loans for a while, but then in July 2020 announced they too were throwing in the towel. About a year later, it was sold to new owners and became The Kitchen Warner, relocating from an Andover location, which just began serving customers last month.

The Local, which was in the building owned by Bob Egan and Rhonda Rood where the mural is located, announced in April that after eight years, they would be closing. The restaurant was sold to the owners of Flannel Tavern in Chichester, who are making improvements before they plan to reopen.

Other businesses banded together and thus far have seemed to weather the challenges. Katharine Nevins of MainStreet BookEnds told the Granite State News Collaborative last summer that she worked with her neighbors at Warner Public Market to coordinate curbside pick-up times, so that customers could make two stops at the same time. 

“Main Street is really thriving,” Nevins said then. “These businesses … we’re all responding [to the pandemic], and the community is responding back in terms of support.”

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