It was meant to be an unveiling but the veil last weekend seemed to have a mind of its own and despite best efforts by volunteers, the new “Phoenix Rising” installation mounted to the side of 5 Stowe St. was out for all to see.
Whitney Aldrich, owner of Axel’s Gallery and Frame Shop inside the building and the champion of the mural project was both deflated at the spoiled surprise and elated at the finished two-story art work that’s been more than two years in the making.
“The veil failed,” Aldrich said, adding that volunteers would try to get it back in place for the week to cover the project that came together thanks to over $40,000 in community fundraising.
Phoenix Rising is one element of a celebration this week that will mark the decade of recovery, rebuilding, and community resilience following the destruction Tropical Storm Irene wrought on Waterbury in 2011. The events also will mark the completion of the three-year $21 million Main Street reconstruction project.
Town and community leaders hope the occasion will give people a time to step back, reflect on all that’s happened in the past decade, and appreciate the work that’s been done on many fronts to both rebuild what was damaged and to do so in a way to be better prepared for the future.
Events for this week start on Thursday with the Waterbury Farmers Market and Concert in the Park featuring the WDEV Radio Rangers. The program will include a moment of recognition of the Irene anniversary.
On Friday, the lower block of Stowe Street at the intersection with Main Street will be closed to traffic, 4-7:30 p.m. for more music, this time by The Barn Band. A program featuring guest speakers will start at 5 p.m. led by Municipal Manager Bill Shepeluk.
As of press time, Vermont’s senior U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy was planning to attend and offer remarks. Former state representative and current Vermont field director for Congressman Peter Welch, Rebecca Ellis, is on the program. Ellis was chair of the Waterbury Select Board when Irene came to town.
Other local officials are expected along with a representative from the Federal Emergency Management Administration — an agency that had a presence for months following Irene — and state Transportation Secretary Joe Flynn whose agency was responsible for the Main Street work. Waterbury’s transportation liaison Barb Farr who is coordinating says the ribbon-cutting should stop traffic on Main Street just briefly.
Aldrich and members of the nonprofit Waterbury Arts organization will officially present and dedicate Phoenix Rising. The colorful image on metal mounted to the brick wall was designed by former Waterbury resident and artist Jessi Zawicki and produced for the mural by Yipes! Auto and Graphics in Williston. It depicts a large phoenix rising from muddy ashes of Waterbury, to represent the town’s recovery since Irene. The image recalls a striking paper phoenix lantern created for the River of Light lantern parade the year after the tropical storm.
Art has a central role to play in the celebration. Inside Axel’s Gallery is the “After Irene Floodgates Art Project Revisited” exhibit on view until Sept. 25. The collection of tiles decorated by community members in 2012 marked the one-year anniversary of the tropical storm and flood. The project at the time offered a way for people to reflect on and share their experience. Local artist organizers of the exhibit unpacked many of the pieces for this 10-year event.
Saturday’s events will focus on local history with several walking tours available. They will include strolls around Rusty Parker Memorial Park (meets at 11 a.m. at the gazebo) and Stowe Street (meets at 2:30 p.m. at Phoenix Rising).
Vermont State House Curator David Schutz will give two tours (9 a.m. and 1 p.m.) of the State Office Complex. These tours will show the transformation and floodproofing of the Waterbury State Office Complex after Tropical Storm Irene. These will begin at the steps of the main entrance at the back side of the complex and will take place outside except for a visit into the main lobby of the new building to see the two-story mural by Waterbury artist Sarah-Lee Tarrat.
At the Municipal Office Complex, 28 N. Main St., the Waterbury Historical Society will premiere the short film, “The 2011 Flood: Commemorating the 10th Anniversary of Tropical Storm Irene,” in the Steele Community Room at 10 am. Following the initial viewing, it will have two additional presentations.
Also running will be a slide show of the three-year Main Street Reconstruction project and “The Spirit of Vermont,” a music video by photographer Jeb Wallace-Brodeur on the immediate impacts after Tropical Storm Irene set to The Barn Band’s original song. The three portions will be shown on a loop between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Guided tours of the Waterbury History Center located in the Janes house portion of the building will also be available during that time.
And in true Waterbury fashion, the public is invited to take part in a brand-new public art project, this time with a theme inspired by COVID-19. MakerSphere will provide opportunities all three days at the Farmers Market on Thursday and again Friday, 4-7 p.m., and Saturday, 1-4 p.m. in the Stowe Street alley alongside Axel’s Gallery to participate in making a piece for “Facing the Pandemic — Alone & Together.”
This new endeavor uses paper face masks as canvasses for people to depict their impressions of the COVID-19 global pandemic. The embellished masks will be on display this weekend and again next month during Waterbury Arts Fest, Sept. 10-11.