Walldogs invade Westerly to scale bricks for history

WESTERLY, R.I. (WPRI) — Walldogs are said to be a different breed of artists.

And visitors to Westerly can discover that first-hand as sign painters from around the world are covering several of the town’s brick structures with historic reminders as part of the Bricks and Murals festival.

Decades before mechanical lifts made painting signs high above the sidewalk relatively safe, walldogs did the difficult work.

“They dangled from staging up on high walls and painted advertising,” walldog Cam Bortz said.

Reminders of how it was done a century ago are not hard to find.

“There are several of these around town,” Bortz said, pointing to a faded sign for a hotel. “There’s a bunch of those around.”

Now there will be 14 more, thanks to about 100 artists.

The old steamship company that used to serve the region is coming back to life on one wall. Civil War Medal of Honor recipient James Barber will be honored on another.

“Across the way, we have a mural regarding the automatic telephone company,” Bortz said. “Westerly had no operator telephones several decades before anyone else.”

Manfred Didier brought his brushes from Germany.

“We don’t do murals at home in Germany because we don’t have the walls like this,” he said.

Didier’s mural tells the story of Westerly’s once thriving, nationally known granite industry.

“We want the people may think about it. What happened here,” Didier said.

It is a type of street art that is trending across the country, but enjoying the artwork is only step one.

“Talk to local people,” Bortz said. “Say, ‘hey, I really like that mural. What’s that about?’ Because there’s somebody who will be proud of it and happy to tell them about it.”

The maintenance plan is for the murals to last at least 25 years, and Bortz will tell you anything beyond that will depend on the next generation of walldogs.

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