Keeping it colorful

Keeping it colorful

Tiffany Mendez of Cumberland is shown in front of the mural she recently painted at the NeighborWorks Blackstone River Valley Art Center on Sayles Street. (Breeze photos by Lauren Clem)
Local artist paints new mural at Sayles Street Art Center

WOONSOCKET – A colorful scene will await students as they return to school day programs next week at the NeighborWorks Blackstone River Valley Art Center on Sayles Street.

Tiffany Mendez, an artist living in Cumberland, spent the month of June painting a mural on the inside walls of the Constitution Hill childcare center, sprucing up an otherwise blank space. Mendez said she drew inspiration from the neighborhood’s history as well as the cultural importance of the Blackstone River.

“I wanted the river to be central to the drawing,” she said.

Mendez is a native of Malden, Mass., who graduated from Rhode Island College with a bachelor of arts in painting and art education in 2013. In addition to working as an instructor in the Rhode Island School of Design continuing education program for young artists, she is a stay-at-home mom to her daughter, Lucy. A former elementary art teacher in Barrington, she had only recently moved to Cumberland when she got a call from NeighborWorks Executive Director Joe Garlick.

“During the pandemic, we were shut down and we saw it was an opportunity to do some refreshing and renovations here,” he explained.

Garlick said he discovered Mendez on the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts blog, where some of her previous work had been featured. Her other murals are located at the Rhode Island College School of Social Work and the Trudeau Center in Warwick.

“Tiffany’s stuff captured me immediately because it had big pictures of families and people and it just sort of struck the right chords,” he said.

The design for the mural includes images of children against a backdrop of a neighborhood map and scenes from the city. While some of the scenes, like the mills and the “Bienvenue” sign on Main Street, call to mind the city’s classic history as a French-Canadian mill town, others refer to more recent developments. Signs reading Gambia, Senegal, Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico refer to the city’s recent immigrant groups and the home countries of many of the neighborhood’s children.

“The world has changed in the last 20 years, so Tiffany included some of the newer countries where kids have arrived (from),” said Garlick.

At the center of the mural, a young girl holding a dandelion ties the images together.

“I felt like she was a symbol of hope, and then the pieces of the dandelion draw your eye through the composition,” said Mendez.

In designing the mural, she referred often to a “A Different View,” a 2000 book compiled by students in the organization’s programs. The book traces the history of the Constitution Hill and Fairmount neighborhoods through interviews with residents.

Though the work started off in a quiet Art Center in June, Mendez had a deadline to meet. In July, with the reopening of childcare centers in Rhode Island, students returned to the center’s summer programs, getting their first look at the new mural and other renovations in the building.

This fall, the building will see even more visitors. With many parents unable to stay home to oversee learning for their children, the center will host a remote learning “pod” for children in distance learning.

“We have a lot of parents who don’t have the luxury of staying home,” explained Garlick.

Mendez said she looks forward to completing more murals around the Blackstone Valley.

The new mural pays tribute to Woonsocket’s many immigrant groups.
The mural includes a map of the Art Center’s Constitution Hill neighborhood.