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Project Fish Tales

A Dream Come True

by Joseph Montebello

Danielle Mailer’s dream is finally a reality. For years she has envisioned a mural on the back of the Staples building in the Torrington Plaza on South Main Street.

“Whenever I drove past I would always look to the left and see this long expanse of dingy white wall,” Mailer said. “I vowed that one day I would paint a mural to fill that space. This was before the days when I started creating public art. It’s been an arduous task but it’s finally done!”

After some challenges in getting official approval from the building’s leasing agent and much fundraising, her project is complete. The mural, which was created offsite and will be attached to the wall, is 186 feet long and 20 feet high and depicts a school of colorful fish swimming. Mailer and her team have been working on the project for three years.

The Children’s Museum lent her its ground floor space to lay out the pieces and paint them. Mailer did a line drawing that was then interpreted by Giordano Signs, which made the life-size fish out of flexible coated aluminum. The pieces were laid out on the floor of the museum and volunteers given paints and a relatively free hand to paint the pieces.

“I had over 100 volunteers,” Mailer explained. “Members of several women’s groups in Torrington, high school students who were college-bound worked in their free time, elementary school kids were dropped off by their parents, older people in their 60s and 70s also helped. And they were not just from Torrington; volunteers came from Lakeville, Washington, Warren, Litchfield, Bethlehem and Hartford. It was an amazing experience for me to watch them bring my vision to fruition.”

Each of the fish pieces is 20 to 30 inches in length and Mailer moved them around on the floor until she worked out the final pattern, which took about a year. In between she faced the arduous task of raising funds for the project.

“It took three years to complete the project—a year and two months of actually working on the mural and the rest of the time I worked to raise the necessary funds. I received a phenomenal grant from the Connecticut Community Foundation as well as one from the Connecticut Culture and Tourism Office for the Arts. Stillpoint Foundation became aware of the project and was a great supporter. And then there were all the amazing individuals who donated money.”

The individual pieces are screwed into the wall, which has been painted a special shade, which Mailer calls Mondrian or Matisse blue. A Benjamin Moore shade that was no longer available, it was reproduced by Besse’s Paint & Decorating in Torrington.

Mailer has been supervising any retouching or adjustments. “It’s slow going,” she explained, “because we have to cut around the building’s light fixtures and pipes. As a piece go up, there is a bit of flaking and some pieces need to be trimmed to fit properly.” But it will all be done in time for the official unveiling on Friday, October 7th at 6 PM.

Just before the presentation, Mailer will drill holes and add a final piece to the wall: a silhouette of herself.

No one will be able to view the piece up close because the driveway access is strictly for Staples delivery trucks. Viewers will be able to stand on Franklin and see the wall’s astonishing affect from some hundred feet away. There has been discussion that the section of the Naugatuck River that once flowed through the area will be reopened, which will further enhance the stretch of Franklin Street.

It has been a true labor of love for Mailer, who has taken a full-time position as head of the art department at Salisbury School. But, in the back of her mind she has already begun focusing on the blank wall adjacent to her fish wall.

“I see a wall of swimmers,” she said, “with a wave motif on the lower panel.” And chances are Mailer will follow her vision.