Simon’s Furniture Mural Gets a Facelift

J.D. O’Gara
Artist Katelyn Chandler Enlisted to Restore Historic Mural
Artist Katelyn Chandler and Simon’s Furniture owner Kirk Simon are shown here with the newly revamped downtown mural.
Issue Date: 
November, 2018
Article Body: 

“The first time I looked forward to going to school was when I took art classes,” says Katelyn Chandler. The creative single Mom, who lives in Cumberland, Rhode Island, says she never looked back once she made the decision to study painting, sculpture and art history at the Montserrat College of Art and later, in Viterbo, Italy, where she learned to paint in the Renaissance style of fresco as well as landscape plein air painting.
“I think as an artist, you hone the ability to literally visualize, an ability to input what you see through your hand,” says Chandler. “I see a different lens of color, space and composition and things of that nature.” Her experience, and that vision, led her to approach Kirk Simon, owner of Simon’s Furniture, about freshening up the store’s 25-year-old mural painted by Newport, Rhode Island artist Sandy Bacon.
“I basically walked in and said, ‘I can fix that for you.’ I knew I had the aptitude and ability to render it properly and was very confident in my ability to paint,” says Katelyn.
“Katelyn’s timing was perfect,” says Kirk Simon, who explained that the family business, begun by his great grandfather, Abraham Simon under the legal name of A. Simon & Sons in 1911, handing it to his sons Maurice (Kirk’s grandfather), David and Harry who later handed it to Kirk’s father, George in the 1960s, decided on the mural in lieu of a sign. The Simons worked with the Franklin Historical Commission at the time to get some pictures of businesses there at the turn of the century. “(Katelyn) came to me and said it could use refreshing and restoration, and we decided it was time.”
Katelyn says she wanted the mural to sing.
“I know how Franklin can get dreary in the wintertime. I want it to be vibrant on a snowy day, and I know it has historical value, preserving the qualities of a family business that has been a big part of people’s perception of where they live, where they’re from and who they are. I love that mural, and to know I’m building on a sense of pride in the community is really fulfilling.”
The project was one of the most grueling Chandler, who has also been an art dealer for about a decade, has ever done. She challenged herself even more by giving herself two-and-a-half weeks, the maximum amount of time she could spare, for the project. (The original took an entire summer to paint.)
“It’s hard work being up there on the lift in the weather and out in the sun,” says the painter, who battled a terrible cold the whole time. “It’s taken me out of my element in a good way.” In addition to wet, rough weather, “The physicality of it has been the most challenging,” says the artist, who devoted 10-12 hours a day on the project.
Simon says he’s thrilled at the positive feedback he’s received from the neighborhood.
“When you go through life, you don’t realize you need something until after you get it,” he says. “That’s sort of the same feeling you get when you look at the mural – you realize it was overdue, it needed to be refreshed.” The new look is sure to inspire Kirk’s son, Jared, a fifth-generation Simon who is bringing his technological and social media savvy to bring the family business into the future.
Now that the Simon’s mural is completed, Katelyn will turn her attention back to a large-scale, public art installation she’s working on.
“I do a lot of socially inspired artwork,” says Chandler. “The project is already basically finished, and it’s going to go into corporate settings and spaces, to sort of promote the idea of women’s equality and a lot of symbolism involved with it,” says Katelyn. Inspired by a conversation she had with another artist, who became a feminist the minute she was discouraged from riding an elephant as a woman in a skirt, Chandler is using the image of a very large, archangel elephant as a symbol of women’s strength.
“The elephant itself symbolizes (women’s) strength and courage,” says Chandler, who will incorporate performance and audience participation into a circus-like, story-telling art experience.
Chandler, whose single-handed work to promote the talents of Franklin photographer Peter Willis has created a ripple effect on the perception of the professional aspirations of adults with special needs, is also working on an art project with Woonsocket, RI schools aimed on developing a supportive school culture.
“I love the idea of rejuvenating and connecting people,” says Chandler. “I’m very much a big thinker, and I want to dedicate myself to projects that feel like they make a positive impact. Art is both your art form, but also the sort of life you create and the experience you want to have. I’ve come across it myself - the stereotype of being a strong, independent, forward minded thinker and talker. I’ve been told I need to quiet down, not be opinionated and very much feared, (but) there’s no part of me that wants to apologize for my voice. I’m done apologizing. You only have one life, and I’m not going to go dark into the night. I take that approach in all things.”