Not every painting stays inside. Such is the case with Princeton, a city famous for its murals. Eccentric and colorful, they fill entire blocks. You have to drive both directions to seem them all. Such gusto seems appropriate for this artistic, funky place.
Here’s how Princeton did it.
The potential was there. All it needed was some attention. That’s what drew residents together to created the Princeton Renaissance Project.
The idea all began with The RiffRaff Arts Collective. Formed in 2006, the co-op (consisting of dancers, musicians and visual artists), keeps Princeton beating. They host performances and public events— things that enliven the area. RiffRaff, Community Connections, the city of Princeton and others came together in 2013 to form the Renaissance Project. Their goals were ambitious. Ranging from public gardens to street fairs, the organization envisioned sweeping improvements to the downtown area. Princeton needed it. The historic buildings and ads were especially appealing, but they required restoration.
An open-air canvas
With its string of early 20th-century buildings, Mercer Street forms the heart of Princeton’s historic district. Most of the brick storefronts date from Edwardian times. To modern ears, their names sound quaint: there’s the D&D Saddle and Tack Building and the Old Stag Clothing Store, for example.
Yet many of them needed attention. With RiffRaff relaying supplies and guidance, artists got to work. More than 30 murals appeared downtown. Come take a tour! Princetonians are pleased to note that visiting hours are 24/7.
The Mercer Street collection
Such is the Renaissance Project’s scope that you have to wander up and down the historic district. These are enormous murals, too. In fact, some of the biggest and most vibrant belong to Patch Whiskey.
Just look for monsters. Most of his creations sport distended eyeballs and grinning mouths. If they remind you of TV cartoons, you’re not entirely wrong. Whiskey has done commissions for Warner Bros. He’s also a noted street artist; bright colors and confident line work are his calling cards.
Another noteworthy mural is on the Vietnam Veterans of America Building. “In Honor of All Veterans,” a joint piece by Elden Justice and Tom Acosta, features an aircraft carrier, a tank and many soldiers. It’s a confident, patriotic piece.
Similar in mood is Rob Cleland’s “Celebrate Life” mural. A high school band marches across most of it, although there’s a hula dancer, pond and perky dog, too. The montage harkens back to old-fashioned American optimism. Like Cleland’s other work— including a mural for Fayetteville— it’s bright, colorful and well drawn.
Jeff Pierson, a talented caricaturist and illustrator, also contributed to Princeton’s collection. A history buff, he enjoys sharing that interest through art. His “Blind Man Reed” mural pays tribute to the famous country musician.
Oldies but goodies
Princeton’s restoration efforts also preserve the past. In fact, vintage advertisements along Mercer Street now look better than ever!
The Orange Crush mural was a recent discovery. Renaissance Project member Greg Puckett uncovered it while scraping paint off an old pharmacy building. Under artist Mark Ra’Chelli’s careful touch, the 50s ad sprang to life. Its vivid orange and lime colors really grab your eye.
Other Mercer Street gems include a historic Coca-Cola sign, Pepsi ad, retro “Lynch’s Men’s Wear,” mural and Eveready battery promotion.
What used to be a nondescript passageway now bursts with color.
Across from Princeton Library, Artists’ Alley announces its presence with steel arches on either end. Inside are 22 murals, all done by volunteers. Some are realistic landscapes, while others are loose and playful. (In one panel, a goat wears a tux.) While the 5×7 paintings vary in skill, an upbeat tone radiates throughout.
And that’s what you take away from Princeton: optimism. Swing by and catch that spirit for yourself. If anything, you’ll see what art can accomplish.
Princeton today— and beyond
Ask locals, and they’ll agree: the city has made rapid changes since 2013. Its murals aren’t the entire story, though.
In fact, there’s growing interest in Princeton as a business location. Mercer Street’s historic buildings have unique, eye-catching architecture— perfect for a restaurant or brewery. Such potential is so close to being realized, you can almost feel it. Locals also anticipate a fine arts gallery for West Virginia craftsmen.
Without a doubt, it’s an exciting time for Princeton. Come visit and see what happens next! You never know what this imaginative, ambitious place has up its sleeve. But that’s part of the fun.
What’s your favorite Princeton mural?
This post was last updated on July 8, 2019