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Mural to reveal the Whip City's rich history

Date: 6/1/2010

June 2, 2010.

By Katelyn Gendron

Reminder Assistant Editor

WESTFIELD -- David Fitcher, an internationally renowned muralist from Cambridge, Mass., had little knowledge of Westfield 18 months ago. He considered this city as just a simple way to get to Route 20 on the way to his daughter's summer camp.

Ask Fitcher what he thinks of the Whip City today after completing a 12-month intensive process to create a mural detailing its history, and he'll tell you "it's more than just a stop on the Mass Pike."

Fitcher was commissioned to create the 44-foot by seven-foot mural, titled "The Story of Westfield," by the Westfield Athenaeum thanks to funding from Westfield Academy. The artwork highlights places and people who helped shape the city's rich history since its founding as the Bay Colony's westernmost frontier settlement in 1669.

"The images are astounding," Christopher Lindquist, director of the Athenaeum, said. "David is an exceptional artist."

He added that the mural is not necessarily sequential but it has the Athenaeum at the center. "The Athenaeum is figuratively and physically at the center of Westfield," Lindquist noted.

The library, then located at 26 Main St., was incorporated by the state legislature in 1864 before moving to the Fowler-Gillett Homestead at the corner of Court and Elm streets in 1899.

Fitcher explained that while the Athenaeum is an integral part of Westfield's history, he could not discredit the myriad people and landmarks prominent throughout the city, including the H.B. Smith Company and Columbia Manufacturing that put Westfield on the map as "The Whip City."

He noted that also illustrated in the mural are citizens laboring in tobacco fields and rolling cigars, the Westfield Wheelmen baseball team and the sizeable immigrant population that flooded the city.

Fitcher said notable figures also included in the artwork are Edward Taylor, poet and minister of the First Congregational Church; Gen. William Shepard, a prominent figure in the Continental Army; and Frank Stanley Beveridge, founder of Stanley Home Products Inc. in 1931 and the man responsible for the Stanley Park Westfield residents enjoy today.

The mural will be unveiled during a private reception on June 18 at the Athenaeum and will be permanently installed in the library's Reference and Information Services Room. A public ceremony will take place this fall during Westfield on Weekends Harvest Days in the District.

"The thing about a mural in a library is that people will see this for generations and generations and I wanted [to create] something that would continue to unravel and unfold for years to come -- something that would absorb repeated viewing. I want people to find something new with every viewing," Fitcher said.