If you’ve lived in the Portsmouth area long enough, you’re probably familiar with the murals along the floodwall, but for some, their origins are still a mystery. For the next several weeks, the Daily Times will be presenting a series of stories about specific murals and their role in the community.
Located along Front Street, these murals portray the history of Portsmouth from the mound building Indians to the present day, and use a 20 foot high, 2,000 foot-long floodwall as a canvas. The project runs the length of the historic district and includes over 55 different scenes.
In 1992, the planning stages of the Floodwall Mural Project began with the formation of an ad hoc committee, which later registered as a nonprofit organization – Portsmouth Floodwall Murals, Inc. (PMI). Robert Dafford, an internationally known muralist from Lafayette, Louisiana, was contracted for the project.
The first mural was completed in 1993. The murals are arranged chronologically from east to west, starting with the depiction of the Mound Builders. The series of murals serve as a visual history of the Portsmouth area.
The flood defenses, what Dafford compared to “a medieval prison wall,” had become “a piece of art that has something to do with the people who live there. It’s their art. It’s their history. It’s their ancestry. And it changes their feeling about where they live.”
With labor day weekend upon us, the Daily Times saw it fitting to start our series with the labor mural, mural number 55, dedicated to the working class members of our community. The mural pays homage to the men and women who built – and who are still building – the mills, foundries, plants, schools and hospitals in and around our city.
“Growing up, I’d probably seen that mural at least 50 times,” said local Whit Bales. Bales is an electrician, and a member of the IBEW 575. “But now that I’m a part of a union, I realize, those people on the mural are me, and the people I work beside on a daily basis. It’s exceptional to be made a part of something our town holds so close to their hearts. Union labor has always been a part of the growth of Portsmouth and will continue to do so.”
In these workers, through united determination and personal sacrifice formed the labor unions depicted. The plaque painted next to the mural reads, “These unions are still acting collectively to bring important social and economical advances to our community as well as progress for the benefit of al that reside and work in the Portsmouth area.”
The mural was painted by Brett Chigoy, Robert Dafford, Herb Roe, Mike Doherty, Justin Montovon, and Chase Innes.
If you’d like to see the murals for yourself, follow the green mural signs posted in the city on Washington Street (Rt. 23 South) leading to the murals on Front Street.
Portsmouth Mural Inc., is a nonprofit, all-volunteer organizations. If you wish to contribute to the project, you can do so by mailing contributions to Portsmouth Murals Inc. at P.O. Box 207, Portsmouth, Ohio, 45662.
For more information about the murals, you can visit the Scioto County Visitors Bureau at 342 Second Street in Portsmouth or by calling 740-353-1116 and going online to www.ohiorivertourism.org
Reach Ciara Conley at 740-981-6977, Facebook “Ciara Conley - Daily Times,” and Twitter @PDT_Ciara