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so here is the story of the Red Onion Mural...
Allen Fair had enjoyed turning his boring alley of cinder block walls into the Graw Race track based on Bill Watson's sketch "the Dream Race at the Graw". We both got alot of positive comments as many of you all came out and created a buzz about it. and it was this energy people had for it that allowed it to grow bigger. people began talking about the horse track and how that was a special time in Havre de Grace, and some of our younger generation and people new to town learned that this was a major attraction for our town that they never knew about.
Allen said during one of our conversations, "well I own the building across from it also and we could paint there." up until that point I dont think he had come up with the entire alley becoming an art/history outdoor art gallery but maybe he already had the plan formulating in the back of his mind. Allen had vision ahead so maybe he already was formulating the idea. Anyway, Allen said what should go on the opposite wall of the horse track?
The word OPPOSITE stuck out in my brain. Many of us view the horse track as a symbol for Havre de Grace to celebrate the beauty of our local history/culture. We were a edgy town and maybe we never did lose those roots to being that funky town off the water. The horse track brought people in from far away lands to our town for the races. Allen worked at the tracks as a young man and it held a special place in his heart and it was part of his story, why he loved this town so much. Horse races were exciting and had an energy unlike anything else at the time.
So if the horse track is one of the things we celebrate the most, what is the opposite, the thing we don't talk about in our past? The thing we tried not to mention much? well... the answer seemed obvious to me.
A few weeks later, I show him a the sketch for the opposite wall. Allen looks at it, then looks at me out of the corner of his eye and asks, "Hmmm. is that a guy getting a blow job in the window?" "Yes," I said. Now, when he asked that, I put my head down and figured that he was saying "no" and I began to wonder what possessed me to think he would want to include that in a mural project of our town history. He thought about it some more and turned to me and smiled and said "Ez, who doesn't love a good blow job?" and we both laughed. We thought it was a part of our dynamic local history that makes us unique as a town. The daytime history we celebrate and the nighttime history of that period. The ying and yang. One thing was decided on that day was that when we told these historical stories, we didn't want to whitewash it or water it down. We wanted to be blunt and honest. we would try to tell it like it was and respect our history, even the dirty parts.
needless to say, not everyone shared that opinion at first, and I did hear some nasty comments, but I must hand it to Allen to not take the conservative approach and having the vision to see that we were doing something modern and vital, and it is part of our story in Havre de Grace. Many, many people began two come out, and they had long discussions about art, life, history, personal stories about the past. quite a large number of older men drove up to see the red onion and when i asked them if they ever went there they said "oh no. never." with a smile and they drove away. People were talking about the art and history. And at first there was some backlash and we made some adjustments so everyone would feel our intentions were for the love of the town and our roots, but overall the community came out and supported and embraced the project and got behind it in a special way.
Our town came to embrace our seedy past, and I think most of us could identify with it as similar stories in our own lives and we could relate to it. We all had dirty laundry and things in our past. And after that, Allen realized he touched a nerve with the project and began to think of this as something bigger, grander than he originally told me about. Allen and Pat (Allen's wife) have always done a lot for the arts and gave back alot to this town. And Allen wanted to build something special for the community that was quite different, and his idea keeps growing.
Needless to say, it was recommended by someone that I paint over my original sketch painting of the red onion because "who is going to want to hang a large painting of a brothel in their house?" and as it turns out there are many people that asked about buying the original painting. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of listening to the suggestion to paint over it before the Red Onion mural got television news coverage. So the original was painted over and it rests buried underneath one of Bill Stoner's paintings of oversized crabs infiltrating the town.
I forgot all about this until this photo popped up in my Facebook feed. But, having just attended the ribbon cutting for Harmer's Town, i though this was good time to share.
I love this town and this has been a special project since the start. I'm honored to have provided a small part of the inspiration.
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