The American Mural Project: Massive Interactive Work Evolves in Winsted

 

When it’s complete, the American Mural Project (AMP) could be the largest piece of interactive indoor artwork in the country—in Winsted, of all places. That’s if it’s ever finished.

After 15 years, over $3 million and the work of over 10,000 children, another five years and millions of dollars are still needed to complete Sharon-based artist Ellen Griesedieck’s 3-D mural honoring the nation’s work force. When completed, it will stand 120 feet long by 48 feet high by 6 feet deep, and will depict a range of professions, from construction workers to surgeons, teachers to truck drivers.

Griesedieck first conceived of the mural in 1999 after creating a series of paintings of working Americans. AMP was incorporated in 2001, and has received donations from various entities including Newman’s Own Foundation, the Alcoa Foundation, Connecticut Light & Power, the Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism and TD Bank.

Arts education has been part of Griese-dieck’s process since the beginning. She has hosted creative workshops around the country, encouraging children to create their own art to be included in the final product—children from 16 states have contributed to the mural so far.

“It’s not a paint-by-numbers,” Griesedieck explains. “That doesn’t give [children] any creative problem-solving experience out of it.”

Ultimately, all 50 states will be represented. “When you have a great idea, it kind of builds on itself. You don’t get it all at once,” says Griesedieck. If it had, she says she never would have started.

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A small piece of the mural remains to be fashioned, but a bigger roadblock is the funds necessary to restore the two factory buildings in Whiting Mill that Griesedieck purchased in 2006 to house the work. She chose Winsted because of its proximity to Sharon—when she first embarked on the project her children were young and she wanted an easy commute. More importantly though, Winsted is a “town built on the work the mural celebrates,” she says.

The vision is to create a “destination” in Winsted. Winding ramps will allow people to see the mammoth mural up close. “The kids are going to be in this jungle of art,” says Griesedieck. An atrium will connect the art space to an interactive visitors’ center that will include a theater, studio space, classrooms and additional exhibits. Long-term plans include expanding the parking lot and creating a woodland park for summer concerts. “This building is going to be as big as the Parthenon,” laughs Griesedieck.

The space, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, has gone through an extensive cleanup made possible through a federal Brownfields grant. In January, AMP formally requested a $3 million bond from the state to raise the building’s roof 25 feet to allow for the installation of the mural, the opening of the museum facilities and renovation of the second building where the visitor’s center will be. State Sen. Clark Chapin (R-Brookfield), state Rep. Jay Case (R-Winchester), U.S. Congressman John Larson and Winchester Town Manager Dale Martin all wrote formal letters to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy seeking support.  

Should the state not come through, AMP will have to go back to the drawing board. Griese-dieck admits they can’t go much further without significant additional funding. “You can only go so far without the help and if it doesn’t seem important enough to people, then I was wrong,” she says. “How does that go down to all the kids I’ve promised this to? The answer is I let every kid know when they start working on this, here’s what it’s like to work on a crazy idea. If you believe in it, don’t let anyone talk you out of it.”

She’s seen the impact AMP has had on children across the country. Griesedieck herself has been forever changed by the mural, and she hopes, when it’s finally complete, it will continue to impact visitors for years to come.

After 15 years, she’s still believes in her crazy idea. “Why do I think it’s going to happen?” Griesedieck asks. “Because I do.”                

 

The American Mural Project: Massive Interactive Work Evolves in Winsted

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