Phillips mural depicts downtown, local scenes
By Dick Matthews
PHILLIPS - Old photographs, dated postcards, stories she heard around town, research at the library and the historical society, just growing familiar with the village – all were inspirations for Sonia Guy. The result: a striking mural in the heart of Phillips’ downtown.
The mural on the east side of Phillips Hardware depicts the town’s Main Street sometime in the late 19th century. To be dedicated on Friday, August 10, at a 10 a.m. ceremony, the 15- by 35-foot painting is another benchmark for Phillips’ Bicentennial Year.
The painted scene is the Beal Block, a stretch of Main Street looking north. Prominent in the mural is the Beal building, a wooden structure that was 120 feet long, 65 feet wide and three stories high. The building dominated the business district and at one time housed up to 10 businesses including two banks, several private offices, a meeting hall, a telephone exchange and the town office. In 1971, when the Beal Block burned in a disastrous downtown fire, it was the only survivor among similar structures built a century earlier.
But the mural depicts much more than a building and stands – as artist Sonia Guy intended – as a panorama of Phillips history. Aside from the central scene, with the steeple of the old Methodist Church rising in the background, the mural is bordered by pictorial vignettes. A hunter in a winter setting; Daggett Rock; the now vanished covered bridge that conveyed the trains of the Sandy River and Rangeley Lakes Railroad across the Sandy River; a swath of cloth commemorating the town’s woolen industry; silhouettes of animals native to the area, – Sonia has encapsulated the town’s heritage in numerous and colorful ways.
This is not the first mural Sonia has painted in Phillips. A conversation three years ago with 5K Pizza owner Lori Berry led to Sonia painting a mural on the wall of the restaurant’s interior, a mural than has grown each year as she’s added to it. She works on these projects for the two months she’s in town during the summer at her camp on Mt. Blue Stream in Avon.
A sixth-grade social studies teacher in Florida, Sonia has been summering in Phillips since 2006 and says she plans to retire here in about four more years. “I was looking for property to buy,” she says, “and stopped in at 5K and met the local breakfast crowd. They were very welcoming and made me feel comfortable, and I thought this would be a great place to live.”
The Phillips Hardware mural grew out of an email conversation earlier this year with Carol Rogers, who has been instrumental in planning a number of the town’s bicentennial events. “Carol asked if I’d do it,” Sonia says, “and since I love to paint, I agreed.”
The paint and brushes were donated by hardware owner Harley Haines, and a fund has been established by Rogers to pay Sonia a small stipend for her efforts – efforts that have included more than 36 hours of work on the painting. Rogers is also sponsoring the mural’s dedication on Friday at 10 a.m.
Sonia, who has a background in community theater, says she’d love to do more projects, specifically mentioning ideas for decorating the interior of the Phillips Area Community Center. “I can’t not paint,” she says, “and would love to get involved with theater events in town.” She also says she’d eventually like to open a small shop in Phillips, something with a focus on painting.
The current mural is worth a look; more than a look, really, for it’s marked by a wealth of detail. The mural rewards study – and getting out of the car and standing up close – for its imagery, large and small, goes far in chronicling the rich history of the town. In fact, the scuttlebutt in 5K and residents’ reactions, as marked by a recent Facebook discussion, have been overwhelmingly favorable.
The hardware mural may, like the 5K painting, be a work in progress. “People keep telling me stories,” she says. “And people talked to me as I was painting.” The result was a series of evolving ideas that may not be the end of the rich tale of Phillips she has only begun to tell.