Vinalhaven residents have always been proud of their granite-quarrying heritage. This summer artists Pamela and James Grumbach memorialized that facet of the island’s history in a mural in Tibb’s Restaurant
on Vinalhaven. The mural reaches from floor to ceiling and flanks both sides of an enormous granite fireplace. The finished piece is actually a montage of many smaller paintings, made to look like
photographs and postcards using the trompe l’oeil method.
Building owner Greg Nelson contacted Pamela Grumbach last winter about painting a mural on the back wall of Tibb’s. “Greg was very specific about it not just being a scene but that it be a depiction of Vinalhaven’s granite history,” said Grumbach, a full-time art teacher. She was nervous about doing this project as she had never done a large mural before.
“I decided that I would have insisted that my students accept this kind of an artistic challenge so I decided I needed to do the same,” she said. “We need these kinds of challenges to grow as artists so we can reach beyond the comfort of what we know how to do already.”
In planning this mural, the problem that presented itself was how to represent 200 years of history in one mural.
“I did try out an idea originally about the granite fireplace ‘melting into a quarry scene,’ which would have been easy for me to do as I do lots of scenic art,” she explained, but Greg was very specific. He wanted it to cover from the old days to the modern uses of the quarries.”
She continued, “When James and I talked over the design ideas we remembered that Greg’s father, Joe, was an avid collector of postcards and realized that using postcard images would allow for lots of different images to be portrayed in a small area. The postcard motif ended up being the unifying factor for the mural design. It also made it possible to do the design in stages that would look presentable in a space that was used throughout the painting. Each postcard stood as a complete work.”
Before beginning the actual painting, Grumbach had to do some research. “When I arrived on the island in June I spent a bit of time at the Historical Society with their postcard collection and doing research that would make the mural accurate – names, dates, important images,” she said. This included finding information on the length of time it took Robert Whyte to carve a granite eagle, which was made for the Buffalo, NY, Post Office.
Grumbach began on July 18 and worked alone for about three weeks. “I realized I wouldn’t be able to finish the mural without some help,” she admitted. “James came on board and I gave him specific areas to work on. He is very good with portraits so he did Bodwell’s portrait, and he is much more meticulous than I and he was good at the lettering of the newspaper article and one of the postcard messages. He has a good strong sense of design and he helped when I needed some quality input.”
Reaction to the finished mural has been very good, particularly from those who attended the opening reception held in August. How “real” the painting looked, as if the postcards could be taken off the wall, impressed many attendees. In addition, the Grumbachs received some suggestions on other scenes that should have been included in the mural. As a result, they will paint three additional scenes on an adjacent wall next summer, including the Rockland Breakwater and Dushane Hill Quarry, where the granite for Tibb’s fireplace came from.
Besides the positive reaction to the finished product, Grumbach derived a great deal of satisfaction from this project. “It was fun to do and I think that it really brought an art experience to people who don’t usually go to galleries or museums. By doing this mural it seemed to bring the creation of a work of art to an audience that might not usually see artwork in process from beginning to end,” she said. “I prepared the surface, drew things in, did gesturral under paintings and then completed each postcard, sometimes over a few days hoping to hint at what was to come. By doing it over several weeks it unfolded to the regular visitors to Tibb’s.
Greg Nelson, who originally commissioned the granite industry mural, is so pleased with the Grumbachs’ work that he commissioned them to do another mural next summer, this time of the fishing industry. Pamela said that James is very excited about the next project. “James will be instrumental in the fishing mural. He has strong ideas of what might be really effective, so I am turning over lots of the work to him,” she said. Local admirers of Pamela’s work spent all summer wondering how the entire history of the granite industry on Vinalhaven could be depicted on one wall. With that success in the bag, we are left to wonder how the Grumbachs will represent the fishing industry. For now, it will have to remain something to look forward to for next summer.