Great Barrington — It’s an unusual sight to be sure. But this time of year, those of us with good memories recall that, during the week before Halloween, scores of area art students descend upon Main Street to paint autumn-themed watercolors in the windows and on the walls of downtown businesses.
And by now, it ought to be familiar. It’s been going on for all of art teacher Neel Webber’s 22 years at Monument Mountain Regional High School. Sponsored by the Rotary Club of Great Barrington, the annual Halloween window painting event on Wednesday featured 85 students from the high school, 30 from Monument Valley Regional Middle School and 15 from the Great Barrington Rudolf Steiner School.
“Nobody really knows how long it’s been going on,” Webber said, standing on Main Street in front of Gorham & Norton as he surveyed the work of his charges.
Webber says he has heard–but cannot confirm–that the tradition started at the former Williams High School in Stockbridge. Williams closed in 1969 when Monument opened.
At any rate, Webber said, it’s not only one of his favorite days of the year, but a favorite of the students, as well.
“They can paint for hours,” Webber said. “Complete strangers walk by and compliment them.”
“And they can play their music and get free candy and ice cream,” added middle school art teacher Katie Malone-Smith. “It’s also inspiring for them to see the high school kids’ artwork.”
“The event offers all the students a sense of accomplishment by having their art chosen to be painted in downtown Great Barrington in what now had become a popular and highly competitive school wide competition,” Webber explained. “There are 200-plus designs entered, then judged by the district art teachers to determine which will be painted downtown.”
It also gives students a chance to casually interact in a positive manner with adults and the store owners who help the students throughout the day with water, bathroom access, food and encouragement.
Students arrived after lunch and began preparing their supplies and taping paper to the windows starting at Carr Hardware (one of the sponsors) and stretching to Railroad Street on both sides of Main.
Then they engaged in tempera mural painting, which provided an artistic challenge to recreate, in the space of a few hours, a well-done mural-sized work from each student’s original 18-by-24-inch design.
In addition to Webber and Malone-Smith, the supervising Berkshire Hills art teachers are Linnea Mace and Krista Kennedy, along with Mark Eurich from Steiner.
“It’s really nice to dedicate the whole day just to art,” said Becky Ralston, a Monument senior. “We usually get just 50 minutes so it’s great to have the whole day.”
Most of the works were fall- or Halloween-oriented, but freshman Paige Scott had a different idea. She painted an image of a girl with text messages behind her suggesting she was not beautiful, so the girl got Botox injections in her jawlines, cheeks and lips. Paige then painted an image of the girl’s ruined face next to the original version.
“The message is people shouldn’t change who they are just to fit into society,” Paige explained.
The event also provides artists “an avenue”–no pun intended, Webber insists–”to showcase their talent in a highly visible space, and, consequently, experience praise from the community at large.”
The teachers and students said they are grateful to Steve Foley of Onyx Speciality Papers for donating the paper, Carr Hardware for providing space to set up supplies, the judges for choosing the Rotary prize winners, and the Rotary for also supplying all the painting materials and for “creating a highly beneficial opportunity for students and adults to work together on a festive, positive community event with benefits on many levels.”
The forecast called for showers on both Wednesday and Thursday, which was the rain date. But the rain held off on Wednesday long enough to get the event in.
“The art teachers appreciate the store owners who give up one or more of their windows, provide encouragement, water, bathrooms, and sometimes food and warm shelter to the artists from time to time during the 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. painting period,” Webber added.
The judges are Rotary president and town moderator Michael Wise, Railroad Street Youth Project development associate Maeve Dillon and Bill Cooke, a Great Barrington selectman.
Results of the competition are now posted below the videos of the student interviews.
See video below of Monument Mountain Regional High School seniors Hannah Flynn and Ruby Jones:
See video below of Monument Mountain Regional High School 10th-grader Eliza Keenan:
The prize winners are (identified by the location in which they worked):
GRAND PRIZE: Hannah Clapp – Barrington Outfitters
Monument Mountain Regional High School
1st: Braeden Rombach – Bizen
2nd: Mary Alpert – Hey Day
3rd: Elliott Seward – SoCo
Honorable Mention: Seth Wyatt – Oasis
Honorable Mention: Tallulah King – Former Seeds
Monument Valley Regional Middle School
1st: Ruby Smith, assisted by Kaitlyn Fennelly
2nd: Lily Fredsall, assisted by Megan Zeik
3rd: Anika Theimann
Honorable Mention: Mira Webber & Raeah Rama