The Essex Street Gateway Mural is Haverhill’s newest landmark: a vibrant four-story image celebrating the city’s rich history, inventiveness and resilience.
Commissioned by Team Haverhill and executed by MLS Studio of Philadelphia, PA, the mural is located at 25 Essex Street in the heart of the Restaurant and Arts District in downtown Haverhill.
This, to me, is the crowning achievement in our city, this beautiful, beautiful mural done by Team Haverhill.Mayor James Fiorentini
The Story of the Essex Street Gateway Mural, “Hues of the Heart”
The inspiration for a large exterior public mural came from a wall of exposed brick on the side of the building at 25 Essex Street. The revitalization of the old shoe factory buildings had created a neighborhood of new residential loft apartments and condominiums, as well as work spaces for artists, musicians, and small business owners. The wall of the building at 25 Essex Street was the perfect site for a dramatic mural that would reflect the new face of the city. Visitors to the mural can enjoy an Audio Tour, provided in either English and Spanish.
The earliest concept for the mural came from the location itself, the site of the Orpheum Theater owned by Louis B. Mayer in 1907. Meg Saligman, of MLS Studio, expanded on this idea to illustrate the inside of a movie theater as a setting for the people of Haverhill’s past, present and future to be seated watching a film on a movie screen, while all around them are symbols of the city’s history.
Everything in the mural comes from the community in which it resides. All aspects of the process from concept development and design to painting and installation involved participation by local residents, business owners, community and political leaders and organizations, students and seniors.Meg Saligman, Lead Artist
Meg, along with artist James Tafel Shuster, came to Haverhill several times to discuss the mural concept with people in the city. These conversations informed the various themes and elements that emerged in the final design.
James presented the initial design to the community at the annual January Possible Dreams 2011 event sponsored by Team Haverhill. The theater is seen in a cut-away side view of the Orpheum as it might have looked in its heyday. The theater is full of people, objects, textures and symbols as interpreted by a sophisticated artistic vision. It is a rich and multi-layered image that celebrates the life of a city, its resilience and spirit, its history and its renaissance.
Images in the Mural
Louis B. Mayer is featured prominently in the first row looking outward from the mural at the viewer. He is surrounded by other renowned people who have called Haverhill their home, and others who live here in the present and represent the community. These include:
- Passaconaway, great chief of the Pennacook Indian tribe, who was said to have magical powers to make rocks move, trees dance and water burn
- John Quincy Adams, who presented Haverhill’s Abolitionist Petition to Congress
- Rowland Macy, Louis Hamel and Stuart Weitzman: entrepreneurs in business
- Cora Chase, Tom Bergeron and Rob Zombie: performers/entertainers
- Stuart Chase, economist and key advisor to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and who was the source of the political term, “New Deal”
- Frances Cole Lee, beloved teacher
- Sidney Mason, Haverhill’s first African-American fireman
- Bob Montana, creator of Archie comic books
- Gene Goodreault, Mike Ryan and Carlos Peña: famous sports figures
- Andre Dubus II and Andre Dubus III: acclaimed novelists
- Barney Gallagher, Leota C. Bailey and Kalister Green-Byrd: “unsung” individuals who contribute to “the heart and soul” of the city
- “Haverhill’s Oldest Resident”, the endangered Shortnose Sturgeon, which return each spring to spawn in the bend of the Merrimack River
- “The Ulysses”, an 18th century ship built in Haverhill and saved from shipwreck through her crew’s ingenuity and perseverance
- One of Haverhill’s younger residents stepping into the theater as a symbol of the city’s future
A full and annotated legend of the mural design was published on the occasion of the dedication of the mural. This document serves as an artistic, historical and educational guide for decades to come. (Mural Design Key)
Meg Saligman, owner and principal artist of MLS Studio, is a nationally-known innovator of public mural techniques. Using a “paint-by-number” technique, the design is sketched onto panels of a non-woven acrylic fabric. These panels are painted and installed onto the wall with a permanent glue. About 30% of the mural is painted by hand directly onto the wall.
As many as twenty community events were held in schools, churches, art galleries, community and youth centers, and at the River Ruckus festival where anyone could pick up a brush and paint a section of the mural on a panel. Hundreds of people, young and old, participated in these sessions over a period of a year.
The actual installation of the mural took eight weeks. Haverhill Community Television has made a timelapse video of the installation.
About the Artists
Meg Saligman, Lead Artist, MLS Studio
Meg’s work focuses on the use of mural art as a medium for community development and revitalization. Team Haverhill commissioned MLS Studio of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to execute this project because of their innovation in the realm of public mural art. Their murals can be found all over the country including one in Omaha, Nebraska, that stands eight stories tall and extends to more than the length of a football field.
James Tafel Shuster, Lead Artist, MLS Studio
James came to Haverhill numerous times over the course of the project. He spoke to community groups, directed painting sessions, managed the artistic process in Philadelphia and oversaw the mural installation in Haverhill.
Jeff Grassie, Lead Haverhill Artist
Jeff assisted James and Meg in every stage of the project coordinating community events through Team Haverhill, managing the logistics of the project and working on the mural every day of the installation, rain or shine.
Amanda Brack, Intern, The Art School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Artist
Support and Sponsorship
The Essex Street Gateway Mural project was sponsored by Team Haverhill and was made possible through the generous support of local businesses, organizations and individual, as well as national, contributors. See our complete list of Sponsors & Partners
The Essex Street Gateway Mural is a richly textured and sophisticated image that evokes the opulence and symbolism of a Renaissance painting. It communicates to us, through art, that the city of Haverhill has a strong sense of place and pride in its heritage.The mural is a work of fine art, a work of love, the love of a people for their city.
From the volunteer coordinators who drove the project, to the local businesses who supported it financially, to the residents who picked up paint brushes to create it, the Essex Street Gateway Mural truly is a project of the people.Sven Amirian, President, Greater Haverhill Chamber of Commerce