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Amy Bartlett Wright
Like minnows we swim to the Matunuck Oyster Bar located at 629 Succotash Road in East Matunuck, Rhode Island ~ best known for uniting fresh, locally grown produce with farm-raised, freshly caught seafood in dishes that are simply put ~ soul satisfying.
Since the restaurant’s recent expansion, I’ve been curious to learn about the Artist who painted the map mural & magical underwater ceiling mural.
Meet Award-Winning Artist Amy Bartlett Wright
Amy Bartlett Wright was commissioned by Matunuck Oyster Bar owner Perry Raso to create the murals. Amy began her career as a scientific illustrator and has over sixty-five books in which her drawings appear.
Her skills as an illustrator led to a specialization in painting large murals for a multitude of settings, including zoos, aquariums, nature centers, museums and public arts commissions. If you’ve seen the 30′ by 10′ Save The Bay mural of Narragansett Bay in Providence, RI. you’ve seen her work.
Amy is capital Busy. She teaches at the Rhode Island School of Design’s Department of Continuing Education, works in her Portsmouth, RI studio and makes time to create wondrous works En plein air in the ocean state and beyond.
Amy’s murals are in Kansas, Maine, New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Maryland and D.C.. When she completes a project in California later this year, she’ll have paintings in 10 states. Amy spent more than an hour answering my curiosities. Here are highlights from our conversation:
How were you selected to be the muralist for the Matunuck Oyster Bar project?
Janelle Photopoulos, founder of Fresh Nest Color & Design reached out to me and invited me to meet with Perry Raso, owner of the Matunuck Oyster Bar. Together we collaborated on mural concepts. Then I created potential design options and a color map. We made decisions together and the work began immediately.
The painting techniques I used between the upstairs and downstairs murals vary. The map mural upstairs is a simplistic but accurate representation of the South County Rhode Island shore line. There I used flat colors next to each other without blending. The map mural shows the Green Hill shoreline & Green Hill Pond.
On the ceiling mural downstairs I used blending techniques to create that watery, underwater feel that serves as the habitat for the native fish in Block Island Sound, Narraganset Bay and our local tidal ponds.
How do you plan a large mural painting?
At the beginning of a mural commission, everything is intangible. The client is paying for something they can’t see. So I work closely with them to explore deeply the ways I can paint their idea. For some clients, this step can move forward quickly, as was the case for Perry Raso. But in other cases it can take months and even years. Mural commissions of longer duration occur when I collaborate with a museum or university client, in those cases there are many stakeholders to satisfy.
After I have a clear understanding of the client’s goals, I provide a project scope and estimate. This leads to a formal engagement. At this point the sketching begins. I typically create 3 ideas to present to the client. Then our objective is to work together to narrow the focus down to a preferred mural design.
Some projects require a great deal of research. I paint insects, fish, birds and wildlife indigenous to a specific area and often need to confer with biologists, botanists, naturalists, historians and more to ensure I get every detail correct. The Internet is a great, but not always accurate. My work process is thorough and always includes going to the source.
Next, I paint a small version of the selected mural design which is a smaller size but to scale with the planned mural. I present the smaller painting to the client for consideration and feedback. From there we finalize details and discuss what’s ahead.
Once everything is approved, the painting of the mural can begin.
Talk to me about paint.
I believe every artist should work in at least 2 media, and that’s what I advise students. It helps anyone learn the different characteristics of paint. I use oil in my studio, watercolors En plein air, and acrylic for murals.
Some see acrylics as not classical because it’s less than 100 years old. But I love acrylic paint for its beauty, strength of color, versatility and endurance. It’s odorless ~ which matters when you’re painting in a restaurant setting for instance. It dries fast and cleans up with water. For speed, flexibility and control, you can’t beat acrylic paint.
My murals are treated with paintable varnish which preserves them for environments inside and out. It also lends itself to touching up. For example, my murals in aquariums receive contact from zoo keepers, animals, and even kids with ice cream cones. In these cases I can return for touch ups, as well as add creatures and specimens if requested.
I wonder about the physical demands of your work when I see images of you in bucket trucks.
When I’m painting a large mural, like for the Calais Maine mural measuring 14′ x 65′, there is heavy lifting. 1 week = 70-80 hours of work. In Maine I worked sunrise to sunset for 3 weeks straight and probably clocked over 250 hours. I’m licensed to drive the equipment that allows me to reach high points on the buildings where I paint.
Masonry jobs like mixing concrete and priming wall surfaces is back breaking. While in Calais, the black flies made working conditions unpleasant. But in all my work I happily do what’s required. Despite the challenging conditions in Calais, I loved every minute of that project. Being a lifetime runner has kept me fit for the work I do, and I find weight training and stretching helpful.
Tell me about a challenging mural concept you painted.
In 2014 I worked with the National Park Service to create a 16′ wide mural for the Tallgrass Prairie Visitors Center in Strong City, KS. I painted a singular scene from an earlier period through 4 seasons. It featured native plants and animals. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to give a presentation at the University of Kansas many years previous and had been to the historic preserved prairie outside of Lawrence, Kansas. I had some familiarity with the landscape and that helped tremendously.
What’s it like to paint in a very public setting, like a restaurant?
Painting a large mural in a public space draws attention. People stop to ask me about the work, and I welcome their engagement. I hear comments and compliments. I think it’s great some people tell me it looks like magic!
I was contacted by a loyal customer at the restaurant. He wanted to do something special for Perry. His idea was to give him a painting of his beloved dog. From pictures provided to me, I painted a portrait of one of Perry’s best friends. If you go to the Matunuck Oyster Bar today, you will see that painting hanging behind the bar.
What’s the next big thing for Amy Bartlett Wright?
This Fall I’m traveling to Ecuador on an expedition with Lindblad Expeditions on board a National Geographic ship to be their Artist in Residence in the Galapagos Islands. For anyone interested in exploring Galápagos in a deeper, richer way through making art, view the expedition brochure here.