A massive mural detailing points and people in the history of Chelsea – from the Battle of Chelsea Creek to the 2020 pandemic food relief efforts – is currently being worked on by noted muralist David Fichter in his studio, with the goal of having it up on 5th Street this fall.
The mural is one that the artist didn’t just decide on himself, but one that was conceived after many Zoom meetings, after input from an advisory committee and even after a number of in-person visits to Chelsea by Fichter last summer and fall. Choosing what to depict was something that was just as much a process for the artist as is the actual painting of the project.
“About a year ago we started meeting a developing the content,” he said. “The first community meeting we had on this in Chelsea was exactly a year ago in July 2020…We wanted to hear what the people thought would be important to cover in the mural. Our overall theme has always been the history and heritage of Chelsea, but the details of how we told that was what we were listening for from the community.”
After many input sessions, Fichter began doing historical research in the library, looking into the archives and reading about the City’s history. Soon after, he began sketching the design and the focal points, which were presented to the Heritage Mural Steering Committee. After they gave input and made suggestions, such as adding Colonial-era slave Fannie Fairweather to the mural, he began the final work.
One of the philosophical themes in the mural is “call and response,” which Fichter said is a motif which he has seen repeated throughout the City’s history – from the Revolutionary War to the current pandemic.
“The theme is about the history, but used the concept of ‘call and response’ in my organizational motif,” he said. “There are larger than life characters in history that are calling out and the people are depicted responding. That is representing a theme here in the history of Chelsea where things happen and people call for others to respond, and they do.”
The mural starts, in essence, with Revolutionary General Israel Putnam calling out for colonial militia to fight back the British in the Battle of Chelsea Creek, and it’s also depicted in a newspaper boy calling out the two great fires that happened, in a woman blowing the Shofar during the city’s era of having a large Jewish population, and then a modern character (actually Jayda Umemba) calling out on a bullhorn during last summer’s Black Lives Matter march.
There are scores of other themes and events depicted, with those calling out being larger and those responding seen in smaller depictions. He said there is also a theme of the city re-building and reinventing itself.
“I see that as a theme in Chelsea history,” he said. “No place I know of has had two large fires. It changed people each time and new immigrant groups come in and re-built and shaped the community for a generation. Then another group came in after them. That’s what’s made it a very special and unique place.”
The mural is being painted on large aluminum panels that will be varnished heavily to withstand the weather and the mural will be permanent. He is using acrylic paints, and is almost done painting the content, though the varnish process still has to be done.
“I still have a ways to go,” he said. “I wanted to do more of the old Chelsea, but there’s only so much you can do and it is already 80 feet long as it is.”
Fichter said delving so deep into the city, both the city of the past and the city of the present, has made him really come to appreciate Chelsea – a place he knew little about before the project.
“I became very attached to Chelsea after a while because it’s just a pretty unique place and endlessly fascinating,” he said.