Members unsure how art will work with preservation of Victorian architecture
By Greg Ellison
(Oct. 14, 2021) Concerns about commercialization and façade preservation led Berlin’s Historic District Commission to block plans last Wednesday for a downtown building-side mural honoring native son Rev. Dr. Charles Albert Tindley.
Economic and Community Development Director Ivy Wells presented the proposal to paint a mural-size Tindley portrait on the side of a building on the corner of Bay and William Streets.
“We’ve had several meetings with prominent members of the local community,” she told the commission.
A pioneer of modern gospel music during the post-Civil War era in Philadelphia, Tindley was native to Berlin.
Credited with writing standards such as “Stand By Me,” and “We Shall Overcome,” Tindley was born in Berlin in 1851 but relocated to Philadelphia with his wife, Daisy, following the Civil War.
Wells said interested persons met with mural artist Jay Coleman at the Berlin Visitor Center on Aug. 24.
The Worcester County Commissioners approved Berlin’s request to pursue a grant to help finance the venture at its Aug. 17 meeting.
Wells said initial discussions focused on selecting a prominent location to commemorate Tindley.
“The consensus was a downtown spot where a majority of people would see it,” she said.
J.E. Parker, who owns the building on 1 N. Main Street, issued a letter in support of painting a large mural, proposed at 12-feet-wide and potentially twice that height, on the side of the town-center structure.
Wells also gave commission members examples of previous mural projects completed by Coleman in and around the D.C. region.
“He hasn’t done the exact design,” she said.
Before he completed the rendering, however, organizers wanted to request commission approval, Wells said.
“He’s currently working on it,” she said.
Commission member Laura Stearns, who was unable to attend the meeting in person, issued a letter opposing the mural plans.
Stearns, while supportive of honoring Rev. Tindley in his hometown, said any commemoration should be done in accordance with the town’s Victorian tradition.
“Not painted on brick that has not been touched in a hundred years,” she said.
Sterns suggested alternative concepts should be considered, such as a focal-point statue downtown.
Commission member Mary Moore said Coleman’s artistic style feels excessively commercial.
“Berlin is so unique,” she said. “When I looked at the packet of the artist’s work, Disney World came to mind.”
Moore said permitting the mural would establish precedent that could alter the ambiance downtown.
“It’s got to go a long way until it would get my approval,” she said.
Commission member Norman Bunting also took exception with the proposed mural location over concerns about painting on vintage bricks.
“Once its there, it can’t be taken off,” he said. “Older bricks are harder to remove something because they absorb a little bit more.”
Committee Vice-Chairman Robert Poli worried that the mural, however well intended, could detract from the downtown’s historic value.
“I’m not ready to see a mural there,” he said.
Committee Chairwoman Carol Rose suggested either a new location, or new direction, would be advisable.
“Nobody wants to tell you ‘no’ … but for tonight I feel we need more information,” she said.
Rose proposed the committee issue a continuance on the matter.
“If we vote ‘no,’ you can’t do anything and have to wait for one year to come back,” she said.
Wells said regardless of vehicle, the aim is to honor a Berlin son of significance.
“We want something everyone is going to love,” she said. “Obviously, it’s not this particular project [but] we’ll think of something else.”
The commission unanimously approved a motion to continue the case and consider alternative ideas to honor Rev. Dr. Tindley.