Lowell exists because of water: the 15-foot level drop in the Merrimack River provided hydraulic power to operate the textile mills that became a huge focus of New England’s Industrial Revolution boom times. But Lowell also suffers from serious flooding about once every 50 years, and put a lot of engineering into flood gates to protect the city. The modern evolution of this complicated dance with water is to direct stormwater in better ways. This includes the model new Decatur Way path by the LRWWU, using permeable concrete and plantings to soak up rainwater and make a beautiful pedestrian space that will bloom with flowers and plants, and community art.
The painting I contributed for the 16×8′ wall near the UMAss Lowell entrance shows the cycle of water, the river… and the growth, literal and figurative, that comes from it. The flowering plant on the right, echoed by small spot paintings on the pavement along the path, is made up of folk art elements from various immigrant cultures that have made up the neighborhood over the years.
The figure of a young Harriet Hanson (later Harriet Hanson Robinson) as a mill girl gives homage to the many laborers that made the mills flourish, including immigrants, women and child labor, and the courage of the people who fought for workers and women’s rights over the years.