In restaurants, museums and theaters throughout Chatham, more than a half-dozen murals comprise an astonishing array of public art created over the past 80 years. From seascapes and streetscapes to familiar town images and iconic Hollywood stars, the variety of murals is both timeless and timely.Written by Anne D. LeClaire | Photography by Michael and Suz Karchmer
Atwood House & Museum
Mural Barn at the Atwood House & Museum, 347 Stage Harbor Road, chathamhistoricalsociety.org
The oldest of the murals are those of Alice Stallknecht, a self-taught painter originally from New York City who moved to Chatham in 1910. She began the first of the murals in 1931 and completed the last in 1945. Located at the Atwood House & Museum’s Mural Barn, the artwork features dozens of individual panels that each tells its own story. “They are a national treasure,” says Chatham artist Carol Odell. In the past, the panels have been exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution, the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery and The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
Bold and dramatic in the style of German Impressionism, the panels depict scenes of working-class life in Chatham. Although stripped of romanticism—the faces are dour and sea-weathered—the paintings are Stallknecht’s love letter to her town. “Here, the whole town of Chatham is drawn upon,” says her son Frederick Wright. “From sea captain to sailor to Coast Guard to businessman to the town lawyer, they and their wives are all here.” The occupations and preoccupations of the citizens are represented in vignettes of scallopers, oystermen, lobstermen, teachers, churchgoers and servicemen in their daily life, rendered in precise detail.
Today, standing in the quiet of the gallery, current residents sit in communion with their ancestors, occasionally pointing out a grandfather or grandmother, and visitors can feel almost as if the subjects are speaking to them.
Chatham Squire, 487 Main St., thesquire.com
The work of Walter “Skipper” Hart, displayed on walls in both the dining room and bar at the Chatham Squire, differs vastly in mood and style from Stallknecht’s, but they both offer familiar and quintessential scenes of the seaside village.
In the late 1960s, Squire owners Richard Costello and George Payne reached out to Hart, a local sign painter, and the idea of the murals evolved naturally. “They wanted something different,” remembers Matt Hart, the artist’s son. “Not commercial.”
At that time, the Squire was closed during the winters, so it was the perfect time for Hart to begin the project. The building was without heat and it was so cold that Hart worked in his overcoat. Despite the heaters and fans, paint froze in the cans.
For the murals, Hart projected images from vintage postcards and personal photographs onto the sheetrock using an opaque projector. He then outlined the buildings and boats in charcoal. The landscape was filled in by hand. The finished paintings were done in shades of sand and brown. “Not many people knew it,” says his son, “but my father was colorblind and that is why he chose that palette.”
The murals featuring the Mitchell River drawbridge, the fish pier, the windmill overlooking Chatham Harbor, the windswept dunes and dories resting along the shore all capture a timeless spirit.
Mom & Pops Burgers
Mom & Pops Burgers, 1603 Main St., momandpopschatham.com
The mural at Mom & Pops Burgers, designed and illustrated by Chatham-based Vervaine Design Studio, covers the west wall and is patterned after a vintage postcard and depicts symbols that reflect the bi-coastal connections of owners Thomas and Pelinda Deegan. On one side of the mural is the Golden Gate Bridge and on the other side is Chatham Light.
Chatham Orpheum Theater
Chatham Orpheum Theater, 637 Main St., chathamorpheum.org
In the lobby of the Chatham Orpheum, patrons are greeted by “The After Party,” a mural measuring 28 feet by 12 feet and featuring characters that represent Hollywood’s most iconic figures, including Marilyn Monroe, Johnny Depp and Robert De Niro. It has become an attraction in its own right.
“It was the most fun I ever had doing a mural,” says Hans de Castellane. “I lost myself in the project.” From an original list of 500 characters, the artist curated the room to the final selection of 119. “It was a guest list from my dreams,” says de Castellane, an admitted film buff. “In it, I could pay homage to all genres of film.”
He created the panels in his Dennis Port studio and didn’t see the completed project until it was installed. The mixed-media mural is comprised of decoupage photos he had reproduced and around which he painted the scene of the party. He incorporated 3-D elements like Meryl Streep’s pearl necklace and Elizabeth Taylor’s diamond earrings that lend a touch of whimsy.
The meticulously designed project required a lot of math and design elements to get the scale right. He created the mural from the viewer’s perspective looking down on the scene from a balcony. “Figuring out the scale of the heads was challenging,” says de Castellane. “Those at the top had to be big enough to be seen at a distance from 12 feet, and those in the foreground larger than life, but not feel like monsters.”
The mural is filled with wit, youthful energy and private jokes other film buffs can appreciate, such as having director Stanley Kubrick dressed in the Apollo sweater from his film “The Shining.”
De Castellane hoped the mural would be an interactive amusement for theatergoers. Conversations in the lobby café are often shared between tables as patrons try to identify each actor and the character portrayed. Can you pick out the only two Hollywood stars depicted twice? (No spoiler alert here.)
Chatham Community Center
Chatham Community Center, 702 Main St., chathamcommunitycenter.com
The mural at the Chatham Community Center on Main Street is comprised of colorful folk art panels that celebrate 25 years of Chatham’s First Night celebrations.
Wild Goose Tavern at Chatham Wayside Inn
Wild Goose Tavern at Chatham Wayside Inn, 512 Main St., waysideinn.com
Hans de Castellane’s work can also be seen at the Wild Goose Tavern. The artist was 23 when he was commissioned to paint the street scenes that border the tavern walls. It was his second public project in town, the first being a mural at the old Christian’s restaurant.
“It was a mess when I was working,” de Castellane remembers. “There were paint cans and ladders everywhere, so the owners closed the room off.” In spite of the closed doors, people kept popping in to watch as he worked. “There was such interest, that eventually the room was opened to diners,” he says. “While they were eating, I was standing on a stepladder painting. I was the live entertainment.”
The challenge of the project was selecting which buildings were important enough to be included and then to arrange them in a way that made sense, as if the viewer was driving down Shore Road and then turning down Main Street. There is a timeless sense to the mural, which is deliberate. “The goal,” says de Castellane, “was to paint something that represented Chatham in a way that the work felt like it had been there the whole time and wouldn’t feel dated in five years.”
Chatham Filling Station
Chatham Filling Station, 75 Old Harbor Road, chathamfillingstation.com
The mural on the south wall of Chatham Filling Station diner on Stage Harbor Road is one of the most recent additions to the town’s murals. Owners Rik and Caren Morse commissioned Helen Kelsey, a decorative painter by trade who traces her family roots on the Cape back four generations and splits her time between Delray Beach, Florida, and Orleans.
“Rik wanted something that would capture the all-American roadside culture and celebrate old Cape Cod,” says Kelsey, who added that Rik also wanted the mural to provide visual entertainment and stimulate conversation.
The resulting work is whimsical and playful. Humorous touches and iconic images from past eras abound, including a Woody wagon, a shirt with Red Sox idol Carl Yastrzemski’s name and number emblazed across the back, a Kennedy for President bumper sticker, a shot of the moon landing displayed on an old television, a trio of field mice shouldering fork, knife and spoon as they scamper across the bottom, and a vintage Esso road map and visitor’s guide. Each object reflects the diner’s retro vibe.
“I loved working in collaboration with Rik, absorbing his ideas and bringing them to life,” says Kelsey. “It was a real challenge and an honor to do.”
Monomoy Middle School
Monomoy Middle School, 425 Crowell Road, monomy.edu
Another work by Hans de Castellane is featured in the Library at Monomoy Middle School on Crowell Road. The mural is 30 feet at the top of a vaulted ceiling and is comprised of images in 50 overlapping circles.