A steady stream of visitors to the open house at Pascal Hall Dec. 10 enjoyed the first public showing of Peter Walls’ sprawling Rockport history mural, commissioned by the Lesher family to adorn the living room of what has debuted as the town’s newest art and culture venue. The Stockton Springs artist worked for nearly a year on the project, which incorporates nine vignettes representing Rockport from the mid-1800s to the present day. Walls is in the lower right, holding a cup. Photo by Jack M. Foley

ROCKPORT — The historic Pascal Hall’s redesigned interior, replete with a sprawling new mural that depicts Rockport history and a spacious exhibit gallery, will be unveiled at an open house event for the public Saturday, Dec. 10, from 1 to 4 p.m.

Linda Lesher, owner of Barnswallow Books in Rockport, is the visionary behind the redesigned structure at 86 Pascal Ave. — built in the 1850s as a Baptist church — and she’s also the art lover behind the mural by Stockton Springs artist Peter Walls that took nearly a year to research, plan and paint.

“Just as we did when we attained the farmhouse that is now Barnswallow Books, we purchased Pascal House because we respect the historic nature of the building,” Lesher said in a written statement. “We feel a sense of stewardship for these lovely old buildings that are such an important part of the history of Rockport.”

  

Linda Lesher of Barnswallow Books and Pascal Hall was the guiding vision for the structure’s rebirth and Peter Walls’ mural. Photo by Jack M. Foley

Lesher worked closely with Walls on the mural concept and with interior designer Leslie Curtis of Leslie Curtis Designs to reenvision the interior of the stately historic building, according to Teresa Piccari, communications director for Barnswallow Books/Pascal Hall.

The open house will give residents their “first glimpse” of the effort that has gone into preserving and enhancing the structure, according to Piccari. “During 2021 and 2022, the Lesher family, the new owners, undertook reimagining the space as a cultural hub for written and spoken word, art exhibits, film and other community events and celebrations,” she explained.

“Barnswallow Books/Pascal Hall are sister properties creating a community through curated talks and titles with BarnTalks, GalleryTalks and HallTalks,” she said, adding they have continued to feature both local and national speakers at Barnswallow over the years.

“With Pascal Hall coming online, we are expanding our local venues with a large gallery space that will feature diverse arts and cultural programming, following in our curated tradition,” Piccari said. “We look forward to continuing our spirited approach to bringing engaging, thoughtful, creative and nontraditional events to the Rockport community.”

 

The wall at Pascal Hall before Peter Walls painted his mural depicting Rockport history. Photo courtesy of Peter Walls

During a preview tour Dec. 8, Curtis said she and Lester share a real love of history, and so the goal all along was to “pay homage and respect” to the building while creating a special blend of the old and the new. And that was accomplished through the choice of furnishings from different eras, art with a nod to posters and nautical themes, stained glass, lighting, and colors, from a richly deep inchyra blue to an off-white called, appropriately, “going to the chapel.” Also by Walls are faux moldings and woodwork so expertly rendered in paint that it seems to fool just everyone.

 

The mural sketch had just begun in this photo of the living room at Pascal Hall. Photo courtesy of Peter Walls

And then there is the centerpiece of the whole enterprise, the mural. Measuring 16-feet high by 31-feet long, it covers almost an entire wall of the living room and is surrounded by what appears to be a wooden frame but is actually decorative faux painting by Walls.

At one time, the living room wall was covered by large old tapestries, but that did not fit the new vision. Curtis knew the grand estates of Maine always used very large art, and so one day, she recalled, “I thought, what if we had a mural in this space?”

She turned to artist and friend Peter Walls whose dual talents for both fine and decorative art were a perfect fit for a project that would need both talents and evolved into a pictorial homage to the town’s history, from about the mid-1800s right up to now — the latter era marked by a cameo appearance of Rockport’s beloved marine mammal mascot, Andre the seal.

About the completed mural, a delighted Curtis said, “I just think it’s a miracle and it just makes me happy to see the variety of things captured.”

It was an involved process, however, according to Walls, a native of Rochester, N.Y. He studied at Alfred University in New York and Louisiana State University and still recalls after moving to Maine in 2016 how he and his wife, artist Allegra Kuhn, spent six months knocking on doors trying to market their decorative art skills. He now does murals all over the state along with other artwork.

Once the town history theme was decided, Walls and Curtis, with Lesher always the guiding visionary, worked closely with Ken Gross of the Camden Library History Center and Kevin Johnson at the Penobscot Marine Museum to take a deep dive into Rockport and Camden history (the two towns once were one) and then narrow down images that would make up the panoply of 150 years of the life of the town.

They pored over more than 300 old black and white photos depicting everything from fishing, sailing, shipbuilding and the Indian Island lighthouse, to lime burning, ice harvesting, the old Camden-Rockport bridge, grist mills and trolley cars, before settling on nine vignettes to tell the town’s story.

The result is a sort of paella of a very busy and often very prosperous littoral Maine, with touches of the old, such as dress styles from the 1800s and sailing schooners, blended seamlessly with sights folks can relate to today — a lobster boat, the opera house and of course Andre.

  

Interior designer Leslie Curtis and artist Peter Walls were tapped to help turn Pascal Hall into an arts and culture venue. Photo by Jack M. Foley

“It took forever to decide where to put Andre,” Walls quipped about the mural he finished at the end of September, often working on a scaffold.

It is all so intricate that Walls said he did a first draft rendering more detailed than any he had done before. And where to begin such an ambitious undertaking done in situ on an existing wall? Initially, the idea was to start at the top and paint his way down, but it just did not happen that way, Walls said.

“I started with the image I like the best,” he said. That would be fishermen netting herring. Last to be done was the bandstand with a band playing — because, the artist said, he is not really a structure painter.

In addition to its history, the entire effect of the mural is “the outdoor feel of Maine,” Piccari said, calling it a “work of art for the building. It’s the space that is important, and Linda’s vision.”

The open house will feature music and light refreshments. For more information, visit barnswallowbooks.com.