Historic art initiative honors Plymouth’s picturesque past

July 13, 2018 : Old Colony Memorial, by Emily Clark

PLYMOUTH – The photograph of Mayflower Seafoods dated to the 1950s and materialized without a source. Everyone agreed it was perfect. When you’re going to shrink wrap a utility box with the past, you need a picture that tells a story. And the image of Mayflower Seafoods told just the right story for the Water Street box near the rotary.

Community Preservation Committee Chairman Bill Keohan was online later, and saw the picture again. Bill Fornaciari of BF Architects in Plymouth had posted it, and people were commenting on it. It looked an awful lot like it was actually Forniciari’s photo. So, Keohan messaged him and told him the picture would be perfect for the art initiative in which where utility boxes were being shrink-wrapped with old photos like this one. When Keohan didn’t hear back right away, he figured he should probably just come clean. Um, it’s possible they had already used the photo on the utility box. Hope that was OK.

The humorous exchange draws laughter from Fornaciari, who said he’s delighted his grandfather Willliam Pavesi’s photo from the 1950s made the cut.

“He worked for Mayflower Seafoods, for Gordon Howland, in one of his many jobs; he bought and sold fish,” Forniciari said. “Mayflower Seafoods was where Tavern on the Wharf is located today. Mayflower Seafoods was a restaurant cafeteria and there was a fine dining restaurant and fish market.”

The public arts initiative is one of several springing up around town through a collaboration among the town’s planning department, the Plymouth Bay Cultural District, the Plymouth Area Chamber of Commerce and the community preservation committee.

Painted Adirondack chairs and picnic tables are now scattered around town, along with the painted lobster statues that draw so many tourists. The initiative has also included murals at the skate park and in Brewster Garden.

Last year, Town Planner Robin Carver raised $13,000 through Patronicity, a crowdfunding platform, and received a matching MassDevelopment grant.

For Keohan, who is admittedly obsessed with Plymouth history, the shrink-wrapped utility boxes are a wonderful way to show visitors Plymouth’s more recent past.

Keohan, a real estate agent, was takiing a client to a home that was for sale in Newton when he stumbled upon a utility box that had been shrink-wrapped with an old photo. The 100-year-old image made him decide to find down the author of this innovation.

That took him to Franklin Marval of Cyanta Studio in Boston, and he then contacted Carver to see if they could hire Marval to do the same thing to 10 utility boxes in Plymouth.

Marval agreed to the plan and Keohan and others went to work finding the right photographs for each box.

“The old photos were chosen to match the area in which the boxes are located. Visitors strolling Town Square can catch a glimpse of what it used to look like, just as visitors in the Samoset Street area can view a blown-up photo of the Samoset Hotel, since torn down.

“It’s at the lights at Route 44,” Keohan explained. “That one is depicting the old Samoset Hotel where Papa Gino’s is now. It was Daniel Webster’s favorite dining room. He used to go there for dinner.”

Keohan said former Selectman Dicky Quintal has requested shrink-wrapping photos on North Plymouth utility boxes as well. This will likely be the next project.

Keohan is hoping the photos are more than just an artistic feature, but a warning about the loss of old homes and structures that have value in the continuity of Plymouth’s rich past.

“What I saw was a lesson to people to look at what we once had,” Keohan said. “It was torn down, and it’s too bad it’s still not here. It’s a lesson to people in the future. In your time you’re going to be asked a question about tearing down a building. Will you want to save that building in your time? I hope people think about their time and how historical buildings are threatened and how people need to fight to save them. We keep tearing down our history. I think these boxes can teach people a lesson that we’ve lost someone in the past. Hopefully you weigh in. Maybe we can save that building in question.”