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SALMAGUNDI: Walldogs provided added inspiration for Rhode Island artist

He’s a restoration artist and a master craftsman. But later this month, Fred Paretta will be in Streator as a bona fide Walldog.

Paretta’s first Walldogs experience came last year when he volunteered to paint with the group coming to his community, Westerly, Rhode Island, and Pawcatuck, its Connecticut neighbor. With a 30-year background in product development and marketing, organizers drafted Paretta to become co-chairman of the local effort, named Bricks and Murals. He directed promotional efforts, but when September rolled around, he said, “I made sure I got to paint.”

The East Coast’s first Walldogs event became a family affair for Paretta. His sister-in-law happened to be visiting from Chicago and pitched in as a volunteer. His daughter flew in from Denver to join the throng of artists.

“For those with an open mind it was totally exciting,” to have the Walldogs transform the communities by quickly painting 15 historically-themed murals on prominent brick walls, Paretta told me last week, although some people were apprehensive about the project scope or concerned about the expense.

“Look at our town now,” he said, offering an insight of how Streatorites might feel in early July. “The end result is just so amazing. … That sense of pride that people have looking around now, seeing these beautiful murals.”

The neighboring New England towns now have a different feel, a different level, he said, adding, “It’s hard to describe, but it’s a good feeling.”

Paretta is careful to point out it’s not just the murals alone that make a Walldogs visit memorable, but the experience of having hundreds of artists and volunteers all buzzing about.

“You’ve got ladders, you’ve got lift trucks, you’ve got people on bicycles delivering water, delivering paint, you’ve got a lot of things going on. … (It) seemed like something happened all the time.”

As much as the Walldogs rave about the camaraderie amongst artists, Paretta also said the experience taught him a great deal about his own community’s history while also forging connections with erstwhile strangers.

“I have made best friends with people here in town I’d seen on the streets but didn’t know.”

The Bricks and Murals effort evolved from focusing around a one-time event to a standing nonprofit group. Paretta remains a board member in charge of marketing. But he also is evolving.

“I was really fortunate to be able to paint alongside Walldogs like Cam Bortz,” Paretta said of the Pawcatuck sign painter before also praising artists like Anat Ronen and Andy Goretesky — too many talented men and women to name individually.

“The stories they tell on these signs, and just the quality of the work and what they’re able to pull off visually is just amazing and I have just the highest respect for all of them,” he said. “I admire each and every one of them for the skill they bring to the table, for making things come to life, it just amazes me all the time.”

Paretta isn’t a painter by trade; his art is in restoring antique items, many of which are deemed both irreplaceable and unrepairable before he gets involved. But after his Walldogs experience, Paretta enrolled in painting classes at the Rhode Island School of Design and now studies pencil sketching weekly in a studio setting. In a way it’s a natural evolution along the lines of his leap from three decades in the corporate world into his restoration business.

He was always something of an artist, being involved in art direction, making models and choosing colors. But when the time came to grab control of his own working life, art through restoration emerged as a clear choice. Then with the Walldogs experience, another infusion of artistic energy nudged him further.

“Unless you make time for yourself, it’s really easy these days to just get swallowed up in the rest of life. Business, working, you’ve got to set aside that time from everything else,” Paretta said. “The Walldogs kind of gave me that kick, that inspiration.”

The trip to Streator later this month represents Paretta “still putting a toe in the water as a rookie” Walldog, but he already plans to be involved in a 2019 event in New Hampshire. He’s looking forward to connecting with artists from last year and is glad to help other towns “experience the instant connections and beautification through art.”

The Walldogs will be in Streator from June 26 to July 1. The excitement the celebration will bring is difficult to convey in words alone.

SCOTT T. HOLLAND is a former associate editor of The Times who continues to contribute his column plus help with editing and writing. He can be reached at scotth@mywebtimes.com, facebook.com/salmagundi or twitter.com/sth749. 

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