PLATTSBURGH — Hollywood starlet Jean Arthur once said, “I guess I became an actress because I didn't want to be myself.”
Her gorgeous visage emerges once again in the consciousness of her hometown with Outside Art Plattsburgh Public Art Project's commission of her mural by artist Brendon Palmer-Angell.
“We're completely grateful that it's in the downtown arts corridor, which was really important to us,” Amy Guglielmo, co-director with Julia Devine, said.
“We wanted to be located close to the Strand and close to downtown where Jean Arthur was born. She was born on Oak Street, and the mural is on the corner of Brinkerhoff and Marion.”
A STAR IS BORN
Arthur was born Gladys Georgianna Greene to Hubert Sidney and Johanna (Nelson) Greene
“Her dad worked in a photo studio on Clinton Street,” Guglielmo said.
“They were from Montana and moved to Plattsburgh, so he could work at the Woodward Studio on Clinton Street. Her birthday is actually Oct. 17. She was born in 1900 on Oak Street.”
The Greene's had a peripatetic life, and the family also lived in Saranac Lake at one point.
“She was considered the queen of Hollywood screwball comedy,” Guglielmo said.
“She was the highest-paid actress in I think in '30s and '40s. I think there was some fact that she made more than Lou Gehrig the sports star. She starred in 'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.'”
30 BRINKERHOFF STREET
The project's interest in Arthur was to focus on a woman in the arts.
“We want to thank the building owners,” Guglielmo said.
“We're grateful for the building owners and all the people that provide walls for murals.
“The Garrands were really sweet and they said they were honored to be part of it and they think it is an appropriate place for Jean Arthur. They are thrilled that she's on their building.”
Palmer-Angell had a two-week, rain-sloughed window to accomplish the monumental mural
located on the rear of the former Merchants National Bank, once known as the "Art Bank," when the North Country Cultural Center for the Arts began there.
“Brendon is an amazing portrait muralist, so we were thinking who was the right person,” Guglielmo said.
“We wanted to recognize a woman because we think it's important to recognize people from all different backgrounds.
“We want to celebrate Plattsburgh as an artsy community, especially with the Strand, the music, and the people that have been through here.”
'MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON'
The project also strives to have an educational component to its artworks.
“Some people have never heard of Jean Arthur,” Guglielmo said.
“We think it's a fun way to let the community know about her."
Guglielmo sold Palmer-Angell on Jean Arthur as a celebrated woman in the arts with Plattsburgh roots.
“I had seen 'Shane' as a kid, a quintessential Western film,” Palmer-Angell, a Syracuse University and Plattsburgh High School graduate, said.
“That was her first and only color film. I knew that she had lived here, but I didn't know a whole lot about her personality.
“'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington' is the most iconic role of hers that I'm aware of. I had seen snippets of that referred to in mainstream media throughout my life.”
His portrait of her is based on an iconic glamour shot.
“I believe it's an outfit she wore in Mrs. Smith, but I haven't confirmed that yet,” he said.
“The main thing is looking through hundreds of photos that were online that was the image that struck me the most — her poises, her confidence and strength in that photo while at the the same time being fabulous. That really hooked me on that photo.”
He did an line-drawing adaptation of the photograph on his computer.
That outline was projected on the wall once he got here, which was difficult because the project kept going in and out.
“You can never line it up perfectly again after it goes off,” Palmer-Angell said.
“After I get those outlines up then, I'm blocking in all the colors with bucket paint.”
The paint is exterior grade, fade-resistant paint, which is custom mixed to match the paint that he uses.
“All of the detail work and the rendering of the image, I use the spray paint for,” he said.
“That's what I'm in the middle of right now. The spray paint is very fade resistant and weather resistant. We won't seal it because unfortunately a lot of times you end up with a glare. Strangely enough too, brick and concrete generally need to breathe. They make special varnishes that are very expensive that allows the wall to breathe. I think we're going to skip on that one this time.”
The mural is located on the north side of the rear of the building located at 30 Brinkerhoff St.
“So, it doesn't get any sun exposure,” he said.
“That is a big advantage for the longevity of the image. It also means that I'm working in the shade and the cold.”
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