By Amanda Burke
FITCHBURG — Iver Johnson, whose bicycle manufacturing business was among the city’s industrial gems before it was shuttered decades ago, is the subject of a new Main Street mural.
“I want to use art and history to inspire,” said artist Jon Allen who stood beside a 70-by-13 side wall at 35 Main St., which is being renovated.
His hands stained maroon, Allen swirled a brush around the edge of a plastic paint container.
Allen, of Fitchburg, Allen, who teaches art and design at Littleton High School, said he approached City Hall over a year ago wanting to create another mural for the city.
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About three years prior, he and artist Sophy Tuttle completed a mural of environmentalist Marion Stoddart, who led the effort to clean up the Nashua River that had been polluted with waste from industrial businesses. The Stoddart mural is hard to miss, overlooking the river and downtown.
City Hall referred Allen to the Community Development Office, whose executive director, Tom Skwierawski, reached out to ReImagine North of Main, the group working to revitalize the North of Main neighborhood, said Allen.
On Sept. 19, ReImagine North of Main’s director, Tricia Pistone, watched as Allen and and artist Jason Mombert, of Rochester, New York, painted a large image of a cyclist beside a portrait of Johnson himself.
ReImagine North of Main commissioned the Iver Johnson mural, she said.
The work of public art is one cog in the city’s effort to get the wheels of arts and culture turning downtown.
“While North of Main supports big projects, like the Fitchburg Artists Community and the Fitchburg Art Museum, you also need authentic art that the public can enjoy on a daily basis,” she said.
Allen hopes the public artwork pull students and businesses downtown.
“The next challenge is getting the businesses back to Main Street as well,” he said.
In fact, the building on which the mural is going is being renovated, and the building’s owner, Matt Fournier, is still searching for a tenant to occupy the building. Fournier did not respond to a request for more information about his plans for the building on the corner of Main Street and Willow streets.
According to Allen, the building was once a bike shop.
“I remember buying a bike here when I was a kid,” he said.
It wasn’t an Iver Johnson model, he said. But in painting an ode to the man whose bicycles were ridden by the late Arthur Longsjo, Allen hopes to help familiarize younger residents with a piece of Fitchburg history.
“When art is public like this, when it’s open and accessible to public view, when it’s taken out of an elitist institution, it’s powerful,” said Allen.