“Our Town” by Shiao-Ping Wang is one of the paintings from our current show. It is 30”x40” and in acrylic on canvas. Recently this painting took an unexpected turn of development – it changed its introverted personality into an extrovert.
Like many artists Shiao-Ping pursues beauty in distilling personal observations in an ordinary life. She always admires artists who paint heroic themes, such as Picasso’s Guernica about the Spanish Civil War, but she never had the drive or vision on that scale. Not until a recent issue woke up the inner community advocate in her...
The issue: the controversial reuse of the Historic Hilltop Elementary School in Somersworth.
As one of the oldest elementary schools in the state, Hilltop’s life as a school will end this June when the school moves to a new location. The future of the historic building is undecided. In a Study commissioned by the City it concluded: “The community has always expressed a strong desire to maintain the building as a school to fit into the existing urban fabric of the area of the city and maintain a civic presence on the site. The city presently intends for the building to remain a public use. Out of the fifteen options presented the following five were chose by the community as possible The five were an Art School with Housing, a Community Business Incubator, a Charter/Private/Second Start School, a Performance Arts building, and a Park with Bandstand. (Quoted from Hilltop Elementary School Reuse Study, “Report Summary”)
All sounds fine until a few months ago. A developer from Massachusetts proposed to purchase the site and turn it into a 50-unit rental property in an area zoned as single-family use. They proposed to add a bigger building behind the original one. Dismay erupted. Opposition from residents went up when the City Council proposed a resolution to draft the sale and purchase contract. Many residents spoke passionately at the council meetings and formed an organization called Friends of Somersworth.
When “Our Town” was conceived in 2008 it meant to reflect Shiao-Ping's experience of settling in Somersworth the year before, and it contained several maps that alluded to a life of multiple transplanting experiences. The painting was gradually ignored among many projects in her studio. Two months ago when she noticed it again, she saw half painted maps strewn over discordant colors, honestly projecting the creators’ confused mind. Yet at the same time it was urging her, "You can figure out a way out of the discord. I may look very different if you keep trying."
As she became more involved in advocating the community use of the Hilltop School, her vision of the painting became clear – "it is an image of what a community can do if people reach out to one another. The streets on the map turned into threads that knot together. The weaving pattern alludes to the textile industry past of Somersworth."
In April, Shiao-Ping brought the painting to Weir Farm National Historic Site as the Artist-In-
Residence, in Wilton, CT. "There I learned about the decade long process that established the site, with much hard work and generosity of many people. Inspired, I focus on the hopeful vision of a brighter future of my town. When the painting was finished at the end of the residency, I realized that I have done my first political painting. It is now titled Our Town."