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New London — Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio, artist Peter Good and state dignitaries unveiled "The Cabinet of Shells'' Wednesday morning, a 40-foot public art piece on the side of the Water Street Parking Garage.
"There's nothing I wouldn't do for New London,'' said the mayor, who is afraid of heights but nonetheless took a white-knuckle ride on a cherry picker to the top of the garage.
Good and Janet Cummings, a husband-and-wife team, created four, three-dimensional panels depicting shells from around the world as part of a statewide public art project.
Kip Bergstrom, the deputy commissioner of the state Department of Economic and Community Development, said New London had the first bit of "destination marketing'' in 1646, when the state's founder and first governor, John Winthrop, invited people to come to the "new, New London'' to live and work.
"New London has been revolutionary ever since,'' Bergstrom said.
About 100 people gathered on the sidewalk in front of the parking garage and watched as white sheets of paper were peeled back to unveil the panels.
"It's fantastic,'' said Jesse Good, the son of the artists. "It's even better from far away."
Cummings said she and her husband had shells around their studio from another project, and wanted to incorporate their colors and textures into the mural. Then they discovered that the New London County Historical Society, at the Shaw Mansion, has a collection of shells from around the world that were gathered by 19th-century whalers.
"We are so heartened to have that tie with New London history,'' Cummings said.
The work is the first to be unveiled in the "City Canvases Arts Initiative," aimed at enhancing public spaces through art. New London, one of seven communities chosen for the project, received a $126,000 grant in March. Three other murals are being painted in the city and are expected to be completed in July.
The "Cabinet of Shells" and three murals on Eugene O'Neill Drive will be part of the city's "Wall to Wall: The New London Mural Walk."
A. Vincent Scarano, president of Hygienic Art, which is organizing the mural project, said when the three murals are completed, "Wall to Wall" will be the biggest public art walk in the state — 13 murals within a three-block radius downtown.
More than 80 proposals were submitted for consideration. Four were chosen by a committee headed by the Hygienic.
"Songs of Our City" by Qimin Liu and Mark McKee is being painted on an 80-foot long wall on the side of Caruso Music. Student interns from the Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts will assist in painting images of musicians.
"Hard Hat Painters" by the artists Mike McNabney and Troy Zaushny depicts historical marine elements with the city's future as a center for diversity, creativity and tourism. It is being painted on the Carriage House building.
"Faces of New London: One Place, Many Cultures'' includes portraits painted from photographs of typical New Londoners and of one student from each grade in the New London middle and high schools. Local artists have been recruited to paint one square each in their own style. The work is on the back wall of the Hygienic stage facing Eugene O'Neill Drive.