Painting concludes Saturday, May 27 with a neighborhood party

Few things attract a neighborhood's attention like painting an outside wall. And Antoinette Savage is the Tom Sawyer of South of Main.

Savage, a member of the East Side neighborhood's civic association and of the Near East Area Commission, saw an opportunity to change the face of one of the entry points to South of Main when a new tenant, Omni Materials Inc., moved into the previously-vacant storage silos at 1855 E. Main St. last year. Commissioners were invited to a walk-through with Omni representatives, and Savage hit on an idea.

“This wall has always been just plain concrete, and it's always tagged [with graffiti],” Savage said of a curved retaining wall on Lucille McIntyre Lane. “The question was raised: ‘Could we put a mural on it?' [Omni] supported it 100 percent.”

Savage, a sculptor and doll-maker, called on her connections in the arts community and enlisted local muralist Shelbi Harris to coordinate the effort.

“[Savage] drove me past it and asked what I thought, and I said, ‘Whoa, that's a big, long wall,'” Harris said in an interview at the site. “I suggested we do a collaborative piece [and] invite the neighbors to do the painting. She said, ‘Sketch it out and we'll get what you need.'”

Omni, which provides limestone soil-stabilization products for construction projects, agreed to sponsor the project. Employees primed the wall and the company purchased all the supplies.

“I have to give Antoinette all the credit for sparking that idea,” Omni's Mike Bader said. “She wanted to make sure neighborhood was protected, and my company wanted to make sure concerns were met. We were more than happy to sponsor it. Being a good neighbor is important to us … to help spark pride in the neighborhood.”

Harris said volunteers went door-to-door in the neighborhood delivering fliers explaining the project, which involved lining the wall grid-style and allowing neighbors to choose a section and paint whatever they liked – with a design and color scheme provided by Harris.

Painting started last weekend and, weather permitting, will be finished this Saturday, May 27, in a five-hour community painting session and Memorial Day weekend cookout.

Savage said the wall, which follows a curve on Lucille McIntyre Lane, a frequent entry to the neighborhood off of Main Street, is a visual representation of the community, a welcome or welcome home, of sorts.

“I want the wall to say, ‘This is a community that cares, and we are working on building back up a sense of community,'” Savage said. “With this project, you see activity, you see people coming out and working side-by-side. Neighborhood businesses, churches … there are a lot of people interested in this.

“It's wonderful to have a company come into your community and want to be part of it. It says ‘good neighbor' to me. And we're telling everyone that comes through that this is a company that's vested in this community.”

Mildred Brewer, a 50-plus year resident of South of Main, is a former next-door neighbor of Lucille McIntyre, who preceded Savage as a commissioner for the NEAC and whose advocacy on behalf of the neighborhood led to the construction of the street that now bears her name. Brewer said the street offers a dedicated entrance to the silo site, which was needed when the site was used for grain storage.

“Trucks would come through the neighborhood to deliver grain, and there'd be a line of trucks backed up into the neighborhood streets,” Brewer said. McIntyre, who now lives in Cleveland, according to Brewer, worked with Columbus City Council on getting the new entrance made. Now, the street is a frequent point of entry for people who live in the neighborhood as well.

Brewer said McIntyre was pleased to learn of the work on the mural and that she would put “whatever Lucille wants” on her section of the wall.

“We're kind of the last thing on the Near East Side. Sometimes, you know, [resources] don't find their way all the way out here,” Savage said, adding, though, that a South of Main neighborhood project called Berkeley Community Art & Flower Garden, is a finalist in the Parcels to Places competition.

“These things provided an added bonus to the neighborhood,” Savage said. “We have young people moving in [to the neighborhood], rehabbing houses. These things are the next level, visual representations of our community.”