Restaurant owner: I painted over mural ‘as favor to community’

By Cynthia Prairie
©2017 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Ed Brown, owner of the Mill Tavern, told The Telegraph last night, that on Monday, using a gallon of dark colored concrete stain, he did indeed paint over the floral mural that has decorated a retaining wall at Routes 11 and 100 in Londonderry for the past three and a half years.

In this photo taken after the student mural was completed, students line up with art teacher Casey Bailey, to the left in pale green hat, artist Garrison Buxton, waving in green T-shirt, and Sharon Crossman, far right.
All photos by Bruce Frauman unless otherwise noted.

The colorful mural had been designed by Flood Brook Elementary students and executed by a Londonderry artist. Its destruction has left many involved in the project saddened and bewildered by Brown’s action. Brown is also an artist and displays his work at the restaurant that he has owned for 45 years. The Mill parking lot is just across the street from the retaining wall, with the restaurant sited to the west.

In a long interview, Brown said, “The relation of that wall to the setting of the Mill, the park, the river, it doesn’t make sense to call attention to the wall with all the beauty around it … The graphic was nice but it was peeling and fading and didn’t look nice. … It faces the road, the weather, the sun, the gravel, the salt. … I was doing a favor for the community.”

He then referred to Route 100’s designation as Scenic Byway and asked, “Why would we draw attention away from that?”

“It’s a wall,” he added, “not a piece of art. The setting is wrong.”

That view runs directly counter to that of Londonderry artist Garrison Buxton, who not only helped the students bring the work to life but is also an advocate for public art. The Vermont State Police are investigating Brown’s action as vandalism, since the mural was on Vermont Agency of Transportation property and Brown did not ask VTrans for permission to paint the wall.

His handiwork was also not appreciated by several members of the Londonderry Select Board, including chair Paul Gordon, who was called soon after defacement occurred.

How the mural came to be

The mural was painted to cover up the unsightly and deteriorating retaining wall in front of the former Shoe Barn. The wall, which is owned by the Vermont Agency of Transportation, had been the target of not-so-artistic graffiti until 2013, when local artists, businesses, the Rotary Club, the Thrifty Attic, Londonderry town government and Flood Brook students came together to rectify the situation.

“The graphic was nice but it was peeling and fading and didn’t look nice. … I was doing a favor for the community. … It’s a wall, not a piece of art. The setting is wrong.”
Ed Brown
on painting over the mural

Before the student mural was painted, Buxton created a temporary mural of bold yellow, green and gray diagonal lines with a sun centerpiece. After that work was complete, Buxton and Londonderry resident Sharon Crossman went on to work with Flood Brook art teacher Casey Bailey and her students to create the mural of colorful flowers towering over homes.

Buxton, who has promoted murals in urban landscapes in New York City as well as in rural areas to brighten up structures that may have fallen on hard times with public art, then painted the wall based on the children’s artwork. In the spring of 2014, the Select Board approved the Flood Brook mural, acknowledging that the mural was to be temporary, and “will have other appearances in the future,” according to the minutes of the meeting.

But by Monday afternoon the wall was under a shroud of solid dark gray-green stain

Children’s mural gets rolled over

On Thursday, Select Board chair Gordon told The Telegraph that he was called about the situation soon after someone spotted Brown painting over the mural. He went to the Mill Tavern to speak with Brown a little after 2 p.m.

Segment of the flower wall from a photo taken soon after the wall was finished.

Gordon then emailed other Select Board members about the conversation. According to Gordon, Brown called the mural “an eyesore,” and said that he did not get permission from VTrans or anyone else to paint over it and added “I’m tired of looking at it and I did the town a favor.” You can read the full text of the email here.

Gordon said he suggested that the town call the Vermont State Police, which, he said, VTrans also suggested.

While Gordon writes in his email that Brown contended that “Casey (Bailey) said it was OK to paint over it,” in his interview with The Telegraph, Brown said that he did not.

“I talked to Casey about two weeks ago and told her the mural was fading and peeling away and looks outdated. She didn’t give me any approvals. She didn’t want to get involved,” Brown said. Numerous attempts to contact Bailey were unsuccessful.

Vermont State Trooper Tyler Noyes said that while they did receive the report of vandalism, which is a misdemeanor, the VSP is still “working with the complainant right now” and no one has been charged in the case as of early Thursday afternoon. State Police ask anyone with information to call the Westminister Barracks at 802-722-4600.

Still, Gordon says, “It is VTrans’ wall, and we (the Select Board) secured the permission from VTrans. It would be my belief that both the Select Board and VTrans would have to give permission” for work to be done on the wall.

Brown said, “The town didn’t give me the courtesy of coming to me and saying ‘Ed, we’re going to paint a mural and this is what it is going to look like.’ … when Paul came and asked if I got permission I said ‘no.’ ”

People have been “shocked at the gall of someone who would intentionally deface it – a businessperson and an artist and someone in the community.”
Sharon Crossman

As for Brown’s action, Gordon said, “I was shocked. That would be the word. There are appropriate ways to address concerns that he had with the appearance of the wall and he did not follow through on the appropriate ways to handle it.” He added that plans were in the works to do touch-up and minor repairs on the mural this fall.

Speaking with The Telegraph Thursday afternoon, Buxton said, he was getting ready to “just give it a refresher. There was some bleed through from the wall.” He added that he intended to fill in the background and touch up the flowers “so that it looked nice and colorful and sharp.”

Sharon Crossman said on Thursday that she was driving down Route 11 “around midday Monday,” when she saw a man painting over the artwork using a roller and a bucket. The color of the paint, she said, was dark gray, an “Army green color.”

The covered wall Wednesday evening. The Mill Tavern is to the left.

“I couldn’t believe my eyes, really. I didn’t know if it had been authorized or not. … I was part of getting that (project) together, getting grant money. It’s very close to my heart,” she added. Crossman said that in the student mural’s early stages, she assisted Buxton at Flood Brook “when we spent a couple of days in the school and Garrison was teaching them (the students) to make stencils and create the design.”

This week, she said she’s heard some reaction from others in Londonderry. People, Crossman said, have been “shocked at the gall of someone who would intentionally deface it – a businessperson and an artist and someone in the community.”

She recalls the difficulty of building consensus for the mural in the first place. “But now there are a lot of people who had a sense of ownership and community pride in it. It belonged to the whole community. It’s become a kind of landmark.”

The original temporary mural by Garrison Buxton prior to the children’s mural. Photo by Garrison Buxton.

Crossman added that many of those people who didn’t love the design at first, either “grew to love it or at least appreciate it.” And “people would stop by and take pictures of it and take pictures of themselves with the wall,” she said.

Buxton said his initial reaction to hearing of the damage to the mural was “surprise, (I was) dumbfounded. … I knew Ed wasn’t a fan of it. I’ve heard him express his disapproval on a number of occasions. But, he obviously felt so strongly about it, he didn’t care that he broke the law to do it. And also coming from an artist, someone who considers himself an artist. Defacing public property? Art done by school kids?”

As for a long-term solution, Select Board member George Mora said on Thursday morning, “Even if the state comes in and patches the wall, it is going to crumble. That is what concrete does. Every year – freeze thaw, freeze thaw. If they aren’t going to replace it with a dry laid stone wall, which could last for 100 years, wouldn’t it be cool to paint it to look like that?”

“I knew Ed wasn’t a fan of it. I’ve heard him express his disapproval on a number of occasions. But, he obviously felt so strongly about it, he didn’t care that he broke the law to do it. And also coming from an artist, someone who considers himself an artist. Defacing public property? Art done by school kids?”
Garrison Buxton

This isn’t the first Shoe Barn mural that Brown has found unsightly. In early 2014, when Buxton was working on the first mural, according to the minutes of a select board meeting, “Ed Brown attended the meeting to express his opinion to the board that the approved design for the mural is not a good fit visually for the nature of the village.”

Brown still finds that early mural “inappropriate for Vermont,” he told The Telegraph, and if another mural is put up, he added, it would bother him. “I don’t want to see another mural there,” he said, adding that he wouldn’t even consider putting a mural of his own artwork there. “It’s not going to work whether it is my paint or anybody else’s.”

And if the graffiti returns to the blank wall? “I’ve got an extra gallon and I’ll paint over it again.”

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Filed Under: FeaturedLatest NewsLondonderry

About the Author: Cynthia Prairie has been a newspaper editor more than 40 years. Cynthia has worked at such publications as the Raleigh Times, the Baltimore News American, the Buffalo Courier Express, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Patuxent Publishing chain of community newspapers in Maryland, and has won numerous state awards for her reporting. As an editor, she has overseen her staffs to win many awards for indepth coverage. She and her family moved to Chester, Vermont in 2004.

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  1. Maria says:

    Amid all the anger and fuss about the mural that was from the Flood Brook School kids (and my kids graduated from there), there is one point that seems to be missing – and can any one of you explain? The wall was painted, then apparently neglected to the point of fading and peeling paint, cracks in the wall and even chunks missing from it. Now if the town paid good money to have Flood Brook paint a mural, their neglect is a discredit to the town and the kids. Why wasn’t it cared for by all of you parents and townspeople? Ask yourselves that and then please move on. You all have a chance to create something new and hopefully better. Just remember to care for your creative efforts so it’s a long lasting benefit to the town. When I come back to visit, I’ll look forward to seeing what you’ve done.

  2. Rusty says:

    The mural was authorized by the Select Board and VTrans. Some people who didn’t like the mural call it graffiti. This only shows that they don’t comprehend the definition of the term, which applies to writing or drawings scribbled, scratched, or sprayed illicitly on a wall or other surface in a public place. If it’s authorized, it’s not graffiti.

  3. GBartlett says:

    The next time you go to eat at the Mill bring a flashlight – it doesn’t really have to be that strong – and point it at the ceiling. Who the hell would eat in a place with all that dust, cobwebs spiderwebs and dirt above their plate is beyond me

  4. JW says:

    I find it telling that it’s the other self-titled “artists” in this thread that defend the actions of this guy Brown. Londonderry is so lucky to have these folks that are willing to take on the task of determining what is attractive and tasteful for everyone else, regardless of whether they have the right to.

  5. Digital Jedi says:

    Oh, well he danced and had an enjoyable meal once. Didn’t know that was a loophole in the law.

    Being Mr. Brown’s buddy does not condone Mr. Brown’s actions. Mr. Brown decided that his opinion trumped everyone else’s and literally forced it onto someone else’s property. Mr. Brown did not take his actions in defense of the powerless, as a form of civil disobedience for a cause, or as a form of political protest. He took his actions because the painting was not to his taste.

    I seriously doubt Mr. Brown has done anything in his 40 years “serving the community” that warrants that level of unmitigated gall. How that translates into the town being amiss is beyond me.

  6. JB says:

    Maybe Mr Brown should take off his own eyesore…The Mill. That building is falling down. The inside is dank and dirty and I would never eat there.

    That wall was not his property. If he didn’t like it, he should have gone through proper channels.

  7. Frank H says:

    “Mr. Brown” really needs to get his head out of his rear end, it’s obviously starting to cause loss of oxygen to his brain.

  8. In defense of a fellow artist and old friend who has enjoyed many meals, dancing and music at The Mill when I lived in So. Londonderry: In the history of this wall, an interim painting was created while the Floodbrook school children designed their mural. If it was fading, peeling and had became an eyesore, why didn’t the town and school do the responsible thing and get students to either refresh the existing school mural or create a new one? It seems the town is amiss here, not Ed Brown, who finally did something the town hadn’t done. Remember Ed has spent over 40 years serving the community. Maybe the town would consider Ed’s actions as an “interim” painting while petitioning the state and the school to come up with repair and new design. Slings, arrows and indignation are not constructive here; instead post your ideas in the form of a possible solution!

  9. Steve D says:

    Do the community a favor and leave. And stop calling yourself an “artist,” you hack.

  10. J Martin says:

    Another import with enough ego to set the world afire. Art is in the eye of the beholder and he had no right to take it down. Perhaps Brown should consider whether he “fits” in the community.

  11. Beth says:

    What a piece of work. How dare you decide what is appropriate- that’s why we have elected officials. He should not only be arrested but have a mental status exam. Sounds like he has no idea of his role in society. And talk about eyesores. The Mill looks likes it’s been condemned- I’ve lived here for 25 years and that dump has looked worse every year – let’s all throw some paint on it – make it a Jackson Pollock look

  12. Digital Jedi says:

    Sensitive artist? Daf** being a sensitive artist have to do with defacing property you don’t own? Since when do artists get to decide when and where other artists’ work shows up? I’m sure Mr Brown wouldn’t like another artists painting over his works because they didn’t think the composition was right. That’s not how this works. That’s not how anything works.

  13. S & T says:

    The wall looked horrible and is missing tons of concrete. I drive by this wall daily and really thought it looked totally out of place. It belongs in a school or on a parents refrigerator. Who decided to put the mural there in the first place and why? The wall still needs a good repair and touching up the flowers on the wall doesn’t fix that the wall is crumbling. It would be nice to repair the wall and make it look like stone or better yet make it stone. This Vermont not NJ.

  14. FERGUS SMITH says:

    Ed Brown is a sensitive, accomplished artist. I completely understand why he found it unsightly, as did I and anyone with any artistic inclination. Why do we need to be subjected to what Buxton thinks art is?

    Every time I drove by it, I found it an eyesore. Having children paint graffiti on a public structure does not make it art. Children should paint on paper or canvas and learn something about artistic expression. If their parents want them to paint graffiti on their own homes, more power to them.

    Garrison Buxton may fancy himself an artist, but one look at his absurd “mural” with painted diagonal lines and a Sun is even less artistic than the peeling graffiti that the children painted.

  15. annie fujii says:

    The kids’ mural was cute and a pleasant change from graffiti. I thought the plan was to change the mural with different artists, etc. regularly at least yearly or seasonally. Since last winter I’d go by and wonder when are they going to do something with this – including repairing the chipped concrete. Ed was perhaps wrong to not ask permission but in no way is this a criminal offense nor should Ed be made out to be a “monster.”

  16. Mark Mueller says:

    I don’t like the fact that Ed just up and painted over it, but it was peeling, cracking and frankly looked abandoned. Nobody cared enough to fix it or touch it up and it would have been in disrepair in two more years anyways. In the end, it don’t really matter. Paint something else.

  17. Christine says:

    This guy sounds like a real jerk!

  18. Terry says:

    The most absurd part of this is that Ed Brown lives in Windham. And the Mill restaurant is only open for 16-18 weeks a year. I’m sure that this incident will get brushed aside. But the reality is that Ed needs to learn a lesson from this.

  19. Maya Drummond says:

    I liked the children’s mural. it was sweet and charming, and personal. I feel sad that it was just covered up with dark green paint. Ed, I cannot believe you would do this. It seems mean-spirited, – I am surprised that you would act this way.

  20. J_ says:

    It really doesn’t matter if the mural in the wall was awful. It wasn’t HIS to “make better.”

    Ed disrespected the OWNER of that wall, and the CHILDREN who spent their time in a creative act. We teach our kids better than this.

    This is a guy who doesn’t respect his community, and would feel completely justified in doing the same thing again.

    All he needed to do was ASK to repaint. I mean, he knew who to ask and just plain didn’t-or worse, if he did was actually told to mind his own business. But nowhere did it say he actually thought enough of anyone else to have asked.

    Any parent with a kid who does artwork will tell you that there comes a time to, “refresh” whats been stuck on the fridge, but it’s the PARENT who decides that. Not some self described “designer” who feels he needs to impose what he thinks on the community.

    I sure hope his legal penalty teaches him some respect – but I doubt it. He’ll skate with a slap on the wrist and feel justified in doing whatever he wants because “he knows better.”

    Good thing my house isn’t nearby, he might not like how my kids painted the mailbox.

  21. Kormallain says:

    Someone ought to go to his restaurant and paint it black. Maybe give him a taste of his own medicine.

  22. Gemma says:

    You’re a mean one, Mr. Brown. You really are a heel.

    But I hope that, like the Grinch, you one day come to see the error of your ways and repent. The public environment belongs jointly to the town, and you have no justification for obliterating something you alone judged to be inappropriate. I hope you are punished with not only a substantial amount of community service, but also with footing the bill for area children to paint a new mural in place of what you destroyed.

    Shame on you, a grown man, throwing a temper tantrum.

  23. KMW says:

    Wow. What a jerk. He’s been a trouble maker in the town of Londonderry for years. Not surprised he did this and agree with the commenter above that he should clean up the inside of his filthy, dusty restaurant before worrying about anything else! Shame on you, Ed!!

  24. MG says:

    I think it’s an improvement. That so-called art was extremely ugly. I too would be upset if it was forced on my daily view. He has done the town a favour by removing such a horrendous catastrophe.

  25. Steve Amsden says:

    I was the recipient of one of Mr. Buxton’s so called murals. Nothing but graffiti pure and simple, now painted over with white paint. What one person finds attractive, might be offensive to others! Good for you Ed!

  26. kurt voight says:

    If New Jersey Ed wants to paint something he should start with his mildew palace.

  27. Melody Reed says:

    I agree with what Katht above says. Mr. Brown had a lot of nerve, and it’s shocking behavior from an artist. I thought the mural was great, and how can anyone not notice the Mill? He must be a very bitter old man.

  28. Katht says:

    How can an “artist” knowingly deface a public piece, especially one based on the artwork of local children? Imagine what a boost to their self esteem it had been to see their flowers so prominently displayed; this mural was a positive presence on many levels.

    Mr. Brown should stick to his side of the road and look inward at the ugliness he can not paint over, rather than grabbing a bucket of paint to inflict his poor taste upon the community.