City life

The East Side's Oldest Mural Gets a Bright New Coat

RISD professor Bill Drew revisits the mural on the Pitman Street Rite Aid

East Side Monthly Magazine ·

During the dog days of this past August, RISD professor Bill Drew and RISD class of 2008 alumnus Mike Tymon were sweating it out to restore the mural that adorns the Rite Aid on Pitman Street.

“Nobody’s called us ‘Picasso,”’ Drew jokes, “But it’s been a very positive experience.”

Drew was responsible for bringing the mural to life, along with the help of several RISD students back in 1998 after Eastside Marketplace had pitched him on the idea of adding a bit of life to an otherwise blank wall. The mural, which depicts a scene of 19th century life on the East Side, shows Market Square boats on the Seekonk River and the Brown Boat House. In the intervening years, the colors have faded and the mural had lost its vibrancy, though Drew points out, somewhat surprised, that it could have been worse.

“By some miraculous intervention it’s never had graffitti.”

Drew approached Karen Bodell, who manages the property, about restoring the piece. The idea was met with enthusiasm, and local businesses, like Eastside Marketplace and Bottles, contributed for the cost of materials. Locals are excited to see the mural restored to its once vibrant state, but when it comes to being out on the hottest days of the year, one has to wonder: Is it worth it?

“Of course. This is a great thing for the community,” Drew says, pointing out that the mural gives a look into the city’s past, as well and allows community members and customers to get an up close education in impressionist art.

Coated with a protective weather sealant, the mural should be good for another 18 years. In the meantime, Drew is already thinking of expanding the mural to reflect Providence’s colonial past and modern present with bookending pieces.

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