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This Public Art Appears Only When It Rains

The large Charter Oak mural in Hartford, Connecticut, is nature-dependent. It takes a little shower for you to see it.

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With the onslaught of destruction unleashed on the East Coast this week, you’d be forgiven for never wanting to see another drop of rain for the rest of your life. That said, most of the time, rain is a restorative, live-sustaining aspect of nature. And this fall, Adam Niklewicz's rain-activated mural demonstrated just that. Niklewicz created the 30-by-45-foot mural of the Charter Oak—an important Connecticut symbol—on the brick wall of a former synagogue in Hartford, Connecticut, using water-repellant Rust-Oleum. When wet, the wall reveals the majestic image to the public.

With the help of artist J.D. Richey, Niklewicz completed the Charter Oak mural in late September. A video companion piece, Walking Around a Tree, which focuses on a young tree that appears to slowly rotate, will be projected onto the wall of Hartford’s AT&T building at night through mid-November. Here’s a look at the video:

Niklewicz explains the relationship between the two pieces thusly:

"Public art should embrace the existing environment and work to enrich reality. The blank slates (almost screens) of the two downtown buildings invite visuals that give counterbalance (nature) and meaning (historical context). The image of the Charter Oak speaks to both. The projection of the new tree speaks to the continuum."

For the initial Charter Oak mural installation, the artists installed sprinklers to ensure that the image would appear daily. The image itself is a reference to an 1857 painting by Charles De Wolf Brownell, which depicted the towering, 1,000-year-old white oak that had become a symbol of American independence, but which had fallen in a storm the previous year. This week, the notion of a fallen tree—and, more importantly, how we respond when things fall around us—feels especially significant. So too does the idea of witnessing history on the walls of our cities, which endure both the hardship and the abundance of nature.

Photos by Erika Van Natta.