Late last year, Caitlyn Shea, a Huntington native, and 15 other artists were selected by East End Arts to conceptualize and complete individual public arts projects meant to enrich the five towns the organization serves, through a program called JumpstART. Shea understood the rarity of this opportunity and took advantage of it in a big way.
“I decided I wanted to do a mural because I love to paint really large. . .I’d been thinking for a long time [that] I wish I had a large space to work with.”
She found a vacant building in Riverhead; her perfect canvas. But finding the space was only the beginning of her journey. Before beginning the project, she had to contact the landlord to get permission to paint on the building. The woman loved the idea, so Shea was able to move on and speak to members of the Riverhead town board, who gave her permission to begin.
Raising the money she needed presented Shea with her first roadblock. Her original plans called for a sculpture to be displayed next to the mural. Shea started a Kickstarter campaign to seek funds for both pieces, but faced with an Aug. 8 deadline, was only able to raise $2100, enough only to complete the mural.
For the mural, Shea painted hummingbirds, which to her are a metaphor for the town of Riverhead itself.
“These birds that have this rapid heartbeat, they are constantly staying hungry. That’s their whole life, trying to find nectar, and searching for more. I think that’s a really good message for a town that’s trying to rebuild [itself] and go forward and change . . ..”
Much of the preparation for the project happened in Shea’s studio, where she painted the actual piece in different segments, to be installed on the wall later. The installation presented her with another challenge.
“In the beginning of this project I had no idea that there were going to be all these self-propelled steps to creating it.”
To install a mural of this scope, she had to rent a lift to get up high on the wall, which made a precaution like insurance, something one would not normally associate with an art project, a relevant factor in completing her work. Shea used a wheat paste technique to install the mural, which is popular in bookbinding and street art, because it is permanent. This insured that the mural would withstand inclement weather.
The actual installation process took nine days in total, and Shea was surprised at the impact her art had on the community, even before it was completed.
“As I started putting up the birds and everything, it was amazing. People were stopping their cars and talking to me, telling me they loved it. So, it was different for me, from working in my studio, all this encouragement was awesome.”
Shea hopes to one day raise enough money to complete the sculpture piece of the project. For now, she is content knowing that her art encourages the community of Riverhead. From Nov. 8 to Dec. 3, she will present her first solo show, titled “Embodiments” at the Alfred van Loen Gallery in the South Huntington Library.
Visit Caitlyn Shea’s mural at 307 E. Main Street in Riverhead.