Bold, bright and uniquely Warren

Mural honors to Blount history and Warren’s maritime past

By Ethan Hartley
Posted 7/28/21

There are plenty of reasons to visit Water Street in Warren. From the tantalizing local eateries to the thriving small businesses, it’s a slice of the way life used to be in small towns across …

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Bold, bright and uniquely Warren

Mural honors to Blount history and Warren’s maritime past

Posted

There are plenty of reasons to visit Water Street in Warren. From the tantalizing local eateries to the thriving small businesses, it’s a slice of the way life used to be in small towns across the country, and its placement along the river only adds to its picturesque ambiance.

But a recently-finished mural that adorns the back of a Blount Fine Foods building just down the road from its waterfront clam shack might force even a long-time local to stop for a second and admire.

The large, brightly colorful painting was finished mid-July after two weeks of work from Greg Pennisten, a local artist based out of Pawtucket with roots just across the Massachusetts border in Swansea. It was the culmination of a partnership between the Avenue Concept and Blount Fine Foods President and CEO Todd Blount. And spray paint. Lots and lots of spray paint. About 50 cans, Pennisten estimated, as he admired his work on Friday morning.

The mural is structured by white lines that form a replica of a 1949 plot map of Blount’s main building, which sits directly across from the mural, and is how it got its name, “Plat 28.” Shaded intricately across the recently-refinished, red corrugated siding in various hues of jewel-toned spray paint are various homages to the maritime industry that supported Warren throughout its history — in addition to some local easter eggs specific to the Blount Fine Foods company.

“It means a lot to get to do it and tell the story of a family and a company that’s been here much longer than I have,” said Mr. Pennisten, who uses the artist name GregWasHere. “So I’m kind of like a conduit to tell their story, and it means a lot in that manner to tell the story of this area. It is special. I’m super appreciative to get to do it.”

Oysters, vessels and history

Images to help tell that story include a portrayal of the original oyster house, which was the headquarters of what was then known as Blount & Hunt’s during the early 20th century. That building is now the site of Blount’s Boats.

Alongside the oyster house is “The Priscilla,” a historic fishing vessel that gathered oysters and clams during the early days of the company. A phrase “Clams For Chowder” adorns the right flank of the mural, which was inspired by a mechanical print block used to stamp cans of Point Judith Clams, a Blount product.

To the top left is a representation of Blount founder F. Nelson Blount’s seaplane, which he was purported to take on various adventures, “including many stories of flying under the Mt. Hope Bridge,” according to a Blount website describing the details of the mural. The south-facing side of the mural is rounded out by images of clams and a majestic schooner that jumps off the building in a haze of sunset orange. Wrapped around towards the back of the building is a large declaration of the mural’s home in Blount-style typeface: “Warren, Rhode Island.”

“It meant a lot to connect not only our history but the town’s history of clams and maritime history,” said Mr. Blount, who added that he appreciates the town’s encouragement of art and wanted to add to that sentiment. “I thought putting that right in front of everybody, and specifically putting Warren, Rhode Island on there, was important too.”

Appreciation for art, and Warren

Mr. Blount said that putting Warren’s name on the river-side part of the mural was important so that any boat traffic coming from other areas would know what town’s waterfront they were admiring. Normally used to having creative control over his products, Mr. Blount said that it was a bit of a leap of faith giving all the information to Mr. Pennisten and letting him run with it creatively.

But his faith was rewarded.

“As soon as I saw the first layer, I was like, ‘oh my goodness that’s amazing,’ ” Blount said. “The colors and shades were amazing, and the fact he was doing it with a spray paint, I never imagined that. I was shocked to be honest. Nothing but endless compliments about him, the whole process and the finished piece.”

Town Council President Keri Cronin, who operates the Dish clothing shop a few blocks away on Water Street, said the mural is perfectly aligned with the town’s culture.

“We’ve become a community that really celebrates and appreciates public art,” Ms. Cronin said. “I think it makes it that much more enjoyable and fun to visit our waterfront.”

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A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.