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Art Students Drive Home Vision

Collaborative Mural at Car Dealership Connects Past, Present

Art students pose in front of their mural at Drum Hill Ford
Art students, from left, Josh Rondeau, Courtney Lemay and Carlos Pujols pose in front of their collaborative mural inside the Drum Hill Ford showroom in Lowell.

By Sheila Eppolito

When owner Bernie Ristuccia was in the midst of a $1.5 million renovation at his Drum Hill Ford dealership in Lowell, a large, antique Ford logo went missing, leaving a gaping white space in his beautiful new showroom.

“Bob Provencher, my business manager, suggested adding a mural to the space, which sounded like a good idea to me,” says Ristuccia, who contacted both a professional muralist and the university’s Art Department.

Associate Prof. Stephen Mishol reached out to alum Courtney Lemay ’13 of Billerica and current students Carlos Pujols of Methuen and Josh Rondeau of Salem, N.H., and asked them to consider the job.

“I gave the muralist and the students the same direction: I wanted a mural that shared a little of Lowell’s history and included a transportation theme,” says Provencher, who made remarks during a recent unveiling of the piece for the artists, family, friends and university representatives at the dealership.

“When they presented their sketches, it was no contest – the students’ proposal was 100 times better, so they got the job.”

Lemay, Pujols and Rondeau collaborated, conducted research on Lowell and Ford’s auto-making history, and came up with an 8-foot sketch, which was projected onto the area with special equipment. 

“The actual painting time took three weeks,” says Lemay, who hadn’t created a work that large, but confesses she “wants to do another one now.” Lemay works as a photographer and is interested in pursuing a career in arts therapy.

The mural, which is 8 feet tall and 32 feet wide, is presented in three sections – each one generally designed and overseen by one of the artists with ongoing collaboration on color, light and figures. There’s a prominent mill wheel, a bridge spanning into a historical Ford Motors manufacturing floor, and a panel reflecting a more modern Lowell, complete with a UMass Lowell sign.

For Pujols, the work was interesting largely due to the sheer scale of the piece. In addition, Pujols said that making alterations mid-work was trickier than usual.

“To check on how things looked, we had to get down off the lift we were perched on, move back and get the right perspective,” he says.

For Ristuccia, the mural presented an unanticipated benefit.

“The car business is no fun in the winter,” he says. “But the mural changed that. It was great to watch the progress day after day, and all 80 of our employees checked in frequently to see what was new.”

Ristuccia was so impressed by the students’ dedication and skill — “Many nights I’d leave here after 6 p.m., and they’d still be up there, painting away” — that he decided to do more than sponsor a single mural.

Drum Hill Ford will contribute $3,000 annually to the UMass Lowell Award of Excellence. Established by Provost Donald Pierson and Mishol, the award is given annually to a “high-rising junior or senior student in the painting discipline who is in at least their third semester of painting.”

According to Mishol, each year a professional in the art field is invited to serve as guest juror and to choose an award recipient. 

“This gift will go a long way to ensure support for future artists for many years to come,” says Mishol.

Ristuccia was impressed by the group of students selected for his project.

“It was fun to get to know such talented, dedicated students,” says Ristuccia. 

“I’m going to miss them.”