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Artist painting the town in Martinsburg

March 07, 2009|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- Mounted on the wall between two bays of an automotive repair business about a mile from artist Todd Groesbeck's home in Hagerstown is an eye-fooling piece of his art.

The old, green Eco Tireflator air pump painted on a piece of steel and mounted at 735 N. Potomac Ave. actually appears to be a relic of yesteryear, not the artistic trace of history it is.

"A lot people ... will pull up to this gas station thinking it's a real air pump, but it's not," Groesbeck told members of the Martinsburg Historic Preservation Review Commission (HPRC) last week.

The painting is the first of what Groesbeck hopes will be a series of works that mesh art with local history in relatively small pieces on other downtown buildings in Martinsburg and Hagerstown.

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More than a half-dozen property owners in Martinsburg have expressed interest in having a piece of art illustrate their building's historical use or architectural character, said Dan Hall, Main Street Martinsburg's design committee chairman.

Laura Gassler, president of the board of Main Street Martinsburg, told the commission she hopes to be allowed to mount a piece of Groesbeck's work at her North Queen Street business that will feature J.J. Newberry's, the five-and-dime store that once was there.

Gassler told HPRC Chairman Don C. Wood the Berkeley County Historical Society might want to have a piece of artwork on display in the rose garden of the childhood home of Confederate spy Belle Boyd, if not mounted on the building itself.

"It could be something that had to do with her love of roses and flowers and that kind of thing," Gassler said. "It could be very indicative of what was in that space."

"Like the Spring House restaurant, you know, at one time, it was a Greek restaurant downstairs and it had a bookie parlor on the third floor. So you probably wouldn't feature the third floor (as part the painting), but you could definitely do the Greek restaurant," Gassler said, smiling.

"It's not going to be a painting of what the building used to be, but it's going to have something to do with the use of that building," Gassler said of the public art project, which has been titled "Traces of History."

"I think it sounds like a great idea," Wood said.

The location and schematics of each of Groesbeck's works proposed for the project will require review by the HPRC, and Gassler said they anticipate having all of the art concepts considered together at a future meeting.

The size of the paintings on metal or masonry will range in size, but would not be larger than 12 inches by 12 inches, Hall said.

If approved, Hall said Main Street would use the art as a marketing tool and promote it through downtown events and brochures, and possibly have the works mapped on a Web site.

Groesbeck said he believes the public art project will increase the walkability of downtown and bolster its image.

"It does bring the community up," Groesbeck said of the prevalence of public art in other communities.

Groesbeck said the artwork also could become part of geocaching, an outdoor treasure-hunting game in which participants use a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver to hide and seek containers around the world. A typical cache is a small waterproof container with a logbook and "treasure," such as an inexpensive trinket or toy.

"There's a lot of people that come to the area looking for geocaches," Groesbeck said. "Geocaches in this area tend to be very historical -- people might look for a gravestone or it could be anything."

One of the cache locations that already is part of game is the historic Boydville estate.

Groesbeck, a Web developer with a bachelor of fine arts degree from the School of Visual Arts in New York City, said he is willing to paint the micromurals at no charge.

"It can't hurt me, I figure, for people to see my artwork," Groesbeck said.

As long as their eyes don't fool them, it won't.

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