By Yadira Betances
---- — LAWRENCE — When famed New York folk artist Ralph Fasanella came to Lawrence in the 1970s, he roamed the streets to get to know its residents and get a feel for the city’s history and culture.
“He really got around, he was Mr. Gregarious because he wanted to learn as much as he could about Lawrence,” said Jim Beauchesne, the gallery and visitor services supervisor at Lawrence Heritage State Park.
On Saturday, from 2 to 4 p.m. at Lawrence Heritage State Park, 1 Jackson St., there will be an informal discussion by residents who met Fasanella’s while in the city.
The conversation is part of an exhibit of paintings by Fasanella depicting Lawrence mills, the Bread and Roses Strike and working drawings of mill machinery in Lowell.
Fasanella rented a room at the local YMCA for $18 a week for two years during the 1970s. While in the city, he made 18 oil-on-canvas paintings, in bright reds, yellows and deep greens depicting what the city was like at the height of the its mill era.
The highlight of the exhibit is “Lawrence 1912: The Great Strike” (also titled “Lawrence: 1912 — The Bread and Roses Strike”), a 5-by-10 foot painting depicting the famous labor milestone. Also on display are the paintings “Paper Mill,” “Garden Street,” 1976 “Mill Workers, Lower Pacific Mill, Working at the Mill” and “Meeting at the Commons,” all made in 1977; and “Working the Night Shift number 2,” “Red Sky” and “The Great Strike,” all created in 1978.
This is the first time in 26 years that so many of Fasanella’s paintings have been on display in Lawrence. The exhibit closes on Dec. 16.
Beauchesne met Fasanella at one of the city’s Bread and Roses Festivals, held every year to commemorates the strike. He bought a poster from Fasanella which he autographed.
“We talked for a little bit, but he wanted to asked me about my life and wanted to know about me. That’s the way he was,” Beauchesne said.
While in Lawrence, Fasanella was involved with reviving the strike story. He also visited classrooms in the public schools to talk about his project.
Fasenella had painted in New York for 25 to 30 years before coming to Lawrence. He had originally planned to move to Boston, but a friend suggested that Lawrence would be a better muse.
Beauchesne is glad he did.
“He had a huge role in helping unearth our forgotten history, and to remember, commemorate and celebrate it because it is an important part of us and is now known all over the country and the world,” he said.