Big Art


Throughout the summer, thousands of passersby watched as international, national and local artists transformed the downtown with four outdoor murals. This innovative initiative, by MCLA's Berkshire Cultural Resource Center (BCRC), made North Adams the canvas for the brightly colored works of art.

The final installment of the "Public Art Mural Project" is "Gneiss," inspired by microscopic and macroscopic formations found in metamorphic rocks that make up the buildings of North Adams.

The mural will be unveiled officially this Thursday, Sept. 27, at 6 p.m., as part of DownStreet Art's monthly celebration.

Upon learning of the Mural Project, artist Melissa Matsuki Lillie of North Adams decided to build upon her recent experience of working at the Berkshire Museum with their mineral archivist.

"I'm interested in microscopic views of rock," Lillie explained. "I was looking at different minerals and did a few pieces based off of that collaboration, which now are being shown at the Ferrin Gallery" in Pittsfield. "When the mural project came up, I thought, 'Wow. What better way to incorporate that project into a larger piece, and still work along that same vein?' It really isn't a far departure from where my work already is."

The expansive mural, which is nearly 60 feet long and stands 9 feet high, is on Holden Street, alongside Main Street's Shima store.

"I like working big, so this was the ultimate piece. I had a lot of fun with it," Lillie said.

Lille said she found it "freeing" to work on the large-scale project, her first mural.

"It's viewed from farther away. You worry less about small details," she said. "The wall that I painted was a brown, very boring wall. Now there's something there to look at, and it's fun and it's happy and it's uplifting."

The project went much more smoothly than Lillie originally anticipated.

"The weather probably was my biggest obstacle. It would get windy at night or kind of chilly, so my hand would get numb at 6 o'clock when the sun would go away. But, as long as I stayed in the sun, it was great."

Lillie first prepared the wall with primer, and then covered it with a light-blue ground cover, before sketching out her actual design. "I filled in the color from there," she explained.

"When I was painting the mural, it was really kind of nice. I was on the street level and people would drive by and give me a 'thumbs up' or call out the window, 'Great job!' So, it was really fun. And, knowing that people are very supportive of it feels good. I feel like I'm contributing to the City. People like it, and that feels good," Lillie said.

Lillie is from Maryland. She moved to North Adams 15 years ago with her husband, who was born in the City.

"People would ask where I was from, and when I told them I lived in North Adams, it was nice for them to hear," she said.

Because all four of the City's murals are similar in that they incorporate vibrant colors, Lillie feels her work fits in well with the other three. All of the murals will remain in the City for the foreseeable future.

"I am so happy that I had the opportunity to do this, and that MCLA gave me the chance to do it. I'm very thankful to everyone who made it possible."