Beautifying the trail
Artwork enhances Route 44 underpass in Avon
By John Fitts
AVON – Local artist Christy Hickey and her daughter Olivia recently added a large-sale artistic touch to the Route 44 underpass along the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail near Avon Center.
The artwork, commissioned by Bike Walk Avon CT, came about as a result of a collaborative effort with additional support from town staff, the Avon Town Council, the Farmington Valley Trails Council and others, including two anonymous donors who covered the costs of supplies.
The artwork itself, Hickey said, is a donation from Hopmeadow Brewing Company, which is run by her family.
The brewery is located just off the trail on Old Farms Road in Avon. The entire family pitches in, with her husband Bryan and son Gabriel serving as head brewer and assistant brewer respectively, while Olivia is head cashier. Hickey picks up shifts pouring beer and is, of course, sign maker and artist.
The underpass mural gives a nod to the brewery with its inclusion of hops, but also present are sunflowers, stars, clouds, sky and a few human touches common to the area.
“Most of my artwork is just from my imagination and I didn’t want to make any sort of statement or anything that would ruffle any feathers, so I painted what was already here, which is sky and rocks and plants,” Hickey said. “I think it matches the area a little better now. I’ve seen people taking their own pictures and sharing it, saying how cute it is.”
Olivia, a high-school senior, did much of the fine detail work on the mural.
“She’s been my apprentice for 10 years,” said her mother. “She grew up helping with the giant products.”
Olivia said she views art more as a hobby than a potential career but has a lot of fun with the projects.
Christy Hickey works in many mediums and especially loves to paint in large formats. Halloween is a favorite subject.
“This is on the lighter side of what I paint,” Hickey said of the underpass mural. “I do a lot of spooky monsters, bugs, spiders. Halloween’s my gig.”
Hickey, who grew up in Granby, graduated from The Master’s School in Simsbury in 1991 and studied for two years at Hartford Art School, has created panels for the past Haunted Hayrides at Flamig Farm in Simsbury. The farm still uses the panels for its current family friendly Halloween Haunted Walkthrough and she and Olivia recently went to the farm to help update those. Hickey’s Halloween art – and several year-round murals can also be viewed at Hopmeadow Brewing Company.
In fact, her artwork at the brewery is what caught the attention of Fran Gurtman, co-leader of Bike Walk Avon CT.
Gurtman came up with the mural idea approximately two years ago. While bike Walk Avon CT started in 2019, Gurtman has long been involved with the Farmington Valley Trails Council and was familiar with the mural on the Route 4 underpass along the Farmington River Trail in Farmington. Dubbed “Connections,” that artwork was created circa 2008 by artist and Farmington High School teacher Marela Zacarias, with the help of several of students from Farmington and New Britain High Schools, as well as fellow muralist Andrew Minor. Other area artists also helped.
“There’s a really lovely mural in Farmington and I said ‘wow. You know it would be great if Avon had something like this,’” Gurtman said. Other factors, such as the development of the Avon Center Project, cemented the idea of the Route 44 underpass as the perfect location.
It took about a year, however, to find the artist – as several passed on the project.
“I reached out to several artists in town to see if they were interested in doing it and, one day, I was at Hopmeadow Brewing and I saw the lovely artwork on the wall,” said Gurtman.
She inquired about the artist. Olivia then directed Gurtman to Christy.
“Christy was so enthusiastic. I said ‘this is it. I found the right person,’” Gurtman said.
She also said Hickey’s ideas for the mural further propelled the project and support for it.
“Christy came up with the idea right at the beginning,” Gurtman added. “It was those initial sketches that really captured the town’s interest.”
The mural, created in 6 days in late September and early October, is intentionally subtle, Hickey said, so as to not cause a logjam in the tunnel from people gazing at the artwork.
Gurtman reiterated that idea.
“I think it’s perfect,” Gurtman said. “It’s not so busy that it will distract people but interesting enough that people will say, ‘wow, that’s kind of cool.’”
Gurtman said there’s so many in town that supported the project, including several council members who regularly attended Bike Walk Avon meetings, as well as those conducted by the Bike Pedestrian Advisory Committee for the town of Avon, which meets regularly with assistant town manager Grace Tiezzi. She said the enthusiasm of everyone involved from the town and trails council spurred the project, which was done with a permit from the state Department of Transportation.
Dan Polhamus, chairman of the Avon Town Council, said the project didn’t require any formal local approval from the council but did have its blessing and noted that there was no cost to the town, save for a little staff time.
“We’re fortunate to have such an active bike walk group,” he said. “They really spearheaded this and, not only this, but the transformation of that tunnel to come… We’re all thrilled to see it and we’re very appreciative of both town staff and Bike Walk Avon for making this happen.”
As Polhamus noted, the group isn’t done with working to improve the underpass and would like to add lighting in the tunnel. The group is currently exploring options related to that initiative.
In the meantime, the Town Council will formally recognize and accept the donation of the mural at its meeting scheduled for Nov. 3 at 7 p.m. in the Selectmen’s Chamber (Town Hall, Building #1). The meeting will also be accessible virtually via a link on the agenda (to be posted at https://www.avonct.gov/). The public is welcome to attend.
Members of the public can also learn more about the Bike Walk Group and Hickey’s artwork.
Bike Walk Avon CT can be found on Facebook, at bikewalkavonct.org or by contacting email@example.com
Those interested in seeing more of Hickey’s work can, of course, visit the underpass or the brewery – located at 205 Old Farms Road (https://www.hopmeadowbrewingcompany.com/), or search “pumpkin_and_crow” on Instagram. VL