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Merrimack Valley

October 6, 2013

The art of onlooking

LAWRENCE — For two years in the 1970s, Ralph Fasanella rented a room at the local YMCA for $18 a week where he got a closeup view of the city’s residents, neighborhoods, landmarks and mills.

The result were 18 oil on canvas paintings in bright reds, yellows, deep greens, turquoise, and pink depicting what it was like at the height of the city’s mill era.

Beginning Friday, Oct. 11, seven of his original paintings and related photographs and drawings of mills, workers and machinery will go on exhibit at the Lawrence Heritage State Park through Dec. 13.

“Too many artists depict the upperclass because they are the ones who can afford it. The mill workers Fasanella paints are like you and me. Through his work, he spoke so well of the people he painted,” said curator Nancy Nesvet.

She said Fasanella went one step further.

“He used his art to advertise the situation of people who needed the publicity. He educated us about working people in America,” Nesvet said.

Lawrence is the second stop of a national tour which includes the Smithsonian Institution in Washington,

On display are the paintings “Paper Mill,” “Garden Street,” 1976 “Lawrence 1912, The Bread and Roses Strike,” “Mill Workers, Lower Pacific Mill, Working at the Mill” and “Meeting at the Commons,” all painted in 1977; “Working the Night Shift number 2,” “Red Sky” and “The Great Strike,” all created in 1978.

Nesvet is most delighted about having “Lawrence 1912: The Great Strike” (also titled “Bread and Roses - Lawrence, 1912”) on display. Fifteen labor unions and the AFL-CIO bought the 5-foot by 10-foot painting. It was loaned to the United States Congress, and was on display Rayburn Office Building in the hearing room of the House Subcommittee on Labor and Education until 1994 elections. The painting now hangs at the Labor Museum and Learning Center in Flint, Mich.

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