Coverage from the Greater Hazleton Standard Speaker
“The Downtown Hazleton Alliance for Progress and its partners have selected a professional artist to paint a large outdoor mural within the central business district,” a news release revealed Monday. That professional artist with close ties to the area is Mary Veronica Sweeney, a Hazleton native and member of the Bishop Hafey High School Class of 1975.
DHAP noted, “(Sweeney) reached out to the Alliance when a longtime friend, Terry Bauder, told her about the project. Sweeney, an accomplished visual artist, muralist and educator, now lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.”
An accomplished artist, Sweeney’s commissions have included “images large and small for organizations like PBS, Scholastic Books, Bantam Doubleday and St. Martin’s Press,” and she “also co-curated a well-received exhibition in 2005 with the Smithsonian Museum of Art about the 101-year-old American muralist Bernarda Bryson-Shahn.”
“I was really excited about the project ... I felt like this was my chance to give something back to my hometown,” Sweeney said.
Sweeney teaches art at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
The Downtown Hazleton Alliance for Progress, which is commissioning the artwork in partnership with Hazleton POWER!, believes that the message the mural conveys will be very important. They solicited theme recommendations from the community.
“The feedback we got was that people wanted the mural to recognize the city’s history — the coal mining history and the European immigrants who came here in search of opportunity — but they also wanted the mural to be about the future as well,” said Krista Schneider, who serves as executive director of the alliance.
“And they wanted the mural to convey optimism: a community with new immigrants where everyone is coming together to make the future bright.”
Sweeney reached out to several local historians to learn about the history of the mural site and the role that particular stretch of Wyoming Street has played in the city’s past. She found that “it was home to not only the Feeley Theatre’s motion pictures, Hazleton Hall’s vaudeville acts and the Hazleton House’s shops and apartments — now the site of Hazle Drugs — but it was also home to Thomas Edison’s Electric Illuminating Company, which had established a power plant in 1883 at the southwest corner of Wyoming and Green streets.”
“So here you have America’s greatest inventor and entrepreneur investing in Hazleton in 1883, which speaks to the city’s promise, innovation, and optimism of that time period,” Sweeney said. “I thought how great it would be to carry this into the future — to have Edison’s creativity and confidence transcend time and inspire what is the future of the community — the children.”
Hazleton POWER! Director Jocelyn Sterenchock noted that Sherwin Williams will be donating all the paint, and Vercusky Painting will be donating the scaffolding.
Sweeney expects to begin work on the mural toward the end of August. She intends to wrap it up in September.
“We are really excited about the project,” said Bill Spear, owner of Hazle Drugs. Spear had the wall behind his drug store (along Wyoming Street). prepped for the mural. “It’s something we think will enrich and beautify the community. I was happy to do it and I’m looking forward to seeing it take shape.”
Sweeney wants the faces of local children to serve an important component. Any parent who would like their child between the ages of 8 and 12 to be represented should email Sweeney a photo with the child’s name and age, as soon as possible. Emails can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.