- Associated Press - Sunday, July 6, 2014

SOUTHINGTON, Conn. (AP) - As the sun beat down and temperatures climbed, Mary DeCroce, dressed in a T-shirt and shorts covered with splotches of paint, dipped her brush into some light brown paint on her pallet. Once her brush was filled, she walked to a five-foot portrait of a dog and began adding color to its face.

“Each one is a separate portrait,” said DeCroce, chairwoman of Southington Community Cultural Arts, an organization that helps with the murals in town. “So it’s not easy. You have to go step by step and tweak it and change it.”

DeCroce’s brown boots were also speckled with paint.

“These are my mural boots,” she said.

DeCroce was working on a mural at the Southington Dog Park last week. Since she painted a mural on the Pepper Pot restaurant on Center Street in 2009, about a dozen others have been created on downtown buildings. DeCroce has had a hand in most of them.

Many people, including Town Manager Garry Brumback, believe the murals have helped combat vandalism.

“The good news is that I have not yet seen a mural get defaced,” said Brumback. “I don’t want to taunt the vandals but I’m thrilled with the positive impact.”

As part of the effort to prevent vandalism, the Town Council recently approved a policy that encourages business owners to remove graffiti within two days.

“It has stopped some vandalism,” DeCroce said of the murals. “I don’t think there is a way to stop it unless there’s artwork.”

DeCroce said vandals don’t typically “tag” the murals with graffiti because the area has been claimed by another artist.

Wallingford graffiti artist and owner of RC Murals, Ryan Christenson, said since he started helping DeCroce with murals about three years ago he hasn’t seen any attempts to deface them.

“In the graffiti culture the crew we represent, we have a lot of respect,” Christenson said. “Anyone that sees our stuff they look up to us.”

Twenty local Girl Scouts recently painted a mural featuring flowers on a building facing the Rails to Trails linear trail. The mural on the Pepper Pot depicts the history of town. Other murals feature koi fish and a scene of a train depot.

“They’re spectacular,” Brumback said. “They’re a wonderful addition to the community.”

About a week ago, Christenson finished another mural of a blue whale on a building facing Bristol Street. He worked for nine hours by himself on the piece using only spray cans. The mural is about 90-feet long and 15-feet tall and Christenson said he wanted it to mimic the scale of an actual blue whale.

“It’s a domino effect,” Christenson said. “With all murals on the trail, more business owners are welcoming them and they still are.”

Plans for the future include a “Before I die” project that DeCroce hopes to bring to fruition. It involves having people write in chalkboard paint what they want to accomplish before they die.

The Southington Dog Park Association asked her to paint the mural on the park’s small building.

Five portraits of different dogs were on the back of the building facing Mill Street. On the opposite side of the building, another dog will be painted in what used to be a window. Around the corner is another small wall where there will be a painting of a dog running after a Frisbee.

DeCroce was nearly done with the portrait of the five dogs on Tuesday but still had at least four to five six-hour days before the mural is complete.

As she was working on the piece with her 16-year-old daughter Ani DeCroce, Southington resident Ron Gignac pulled into the parking lot.

“I have a two-car garage and I’d like a portrait,” he said to DeCroce.

Often when DeCroce is working on a mural she gets a lot of requests from people and businesses. Gignac said he has been driving by the artwork and admiring it. He also enjoys dogs and has a beagle. A mural on his garage is something he was interested in.

“I think it’s beautiful,” Gignac said. “It really is.”

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Information from: Record-Journal, https://www.record-journal.com

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