Aug. 5—Excitement is bubbling up in Afton over a new mural in the Chenango County village.
Afton resident and artist Christopher Wright was commissioned by the nonprofit organization HALos, Help After Loss, to paint the sides of the group's 146 Main St. building, formerly the Great American grocery store.
Wright said, together with HALos officials, he designed the mural to highlight Afton's past.
"They had some basic ideas and I know they wanted some of the history of Afton incorporated, but instead of being a ... collage look, my (4-year-old) daughter actually inspired me," he said. "She was blowing bubbles and it just dawned on me, that's how I can incorporate the history of Afton: through bubbles.
"The whole background scenery with the bridge and Foster Park is along the (Susquehanna) River and my children are going to be blowing bubbles from the left-hand side," Wright continued. "They will look like real bubbles but, instead of a reflection of the surroundings, it will be reflections of the past — an old bridge, some of the old buildings and a few chosen figures from Afton's past. I'm going to do my best to give a little sampling of Afton's history."
Wright, who painted Bainbridge's mural in 2019, said he's roughly two weeks into the project.
"I've put in about 20 hours with at least about 20 more to go," he said. "It's bigger than the Bainbridge mural; the scaffolding I'm on is close to six feet tall and, when I'm on it, I don't come near the top, so I need an extension on my paintbrush and it's probably close to 20 feet tall ... and probably more than 100 feet long. I'm very hopeful that I will have it done by the end of this month. The initial goal was before the Afton (Arts & Crafts) Festival (happening Aug. 20 to 21), but it's going to be tight."
HALos Executive Director and founder Joyce Humphrey said the group purchased the building in 2019 and has spent the intervening years renovating its interior, which will house HALos as well as emergent Afton-area businesses. Humphrey founded the organization, which she said strives to "help anyone ... grieving a loss, (of) any kind," in 2000, following the death of her son in 1993.
Sprucing up the building's exterior, Humphrey said, aligns with the group's mission as well as a wider movement in Afton.
"When the Great American closed, because we have a broad understanding of grief, we were very receptive to all the loss that was created when this grocery store closed," she said. "So, when we found out (the building) was up for auction, we said, 'It just fits.' and the way (the mural) is designed is very scenic of Afton — it's a scene of the Susquehanna River and the gazebo and water fountain over at Foster Park.
"In the bubbles that are being added ... we're doing a lot of historic things," Humphrey continued. "It's really interesting, where we came from and what we did. I'm hoping to pass that on to other people and hoping that teachers will get excited and talk to their kiddos and walk their classes down there. I also think it's going to catch people's eye in town. The mayor and a lot of committees are working really hard to revitalize Afton and give it a facelift. This mural was an easy way ... of kind of kickstarting that."
Wright and Humphrey said the community is keen to see the finished product.
"(HALos) has done some amazing renovations inside so far, and they have amazing plans for the future," he said. "After going inside their building for the first time ... I understand now why they wanted a mural. The way they're decorating inside is beautiful and not run-of-the-mill decorations; it's very organic looking. So, I think it's really great for our little community here. There's quite a bit of people following updates on Facebook and community members are sharing it.
"A mural on the outside is kind of a community thing," Wright continued. "They want to get excitement for the area because of all the stuff they have planned for that building, so that's one of the reasons they chose a mural, but also to give a little bit back to the community with the touch of history incorporated."
"Since the mural has been going, Chris and I have talked to a lot of people, and they're just so supportive of it," Humphrey echoed. "They love it and we've been able to raise $2,000 for the mural. That's all donations from the village and it's just incredible. People are excited. They're actually seeing something, and people are out there every week, because they want to see what Chris has done. and Chris is going to be out there working on painting some of the bubbles (during the arts festival), so people that come will actually be able to walk by and see him working and talk about it."
To follow Wright's progress, find "CLWRIGHT" on Facebook or follow #aftonnymural.
For more information on HALos, including details on the Aug. 13 Camp HUGS, visit helpafterloss.com.