Pleasant pickles, cheery tomatoes, busy bees and merry musical notes – these are just a few of the delightful, eye-catching details featured on the St. John’s Farmers’ Market’s playful #ComePlayWithMeNL public piano, beautifully brought to life by visual artist Julie Lewis. The piano, donated by the Fitzpatrick family and sponsored by Cox & Palmer, was officially unveiled at the market at the end of May and adds to the market’s fun and vibrant atmosphere.
We recently caught up with Julie to talk details, design, and viewing things through a child’s eye.
Business & Arts NL: The piano you painted for the farmers’ market is so bright, whimsical and fun. Can you tell us a bit about where your inspiration came from?
Julie Lewis: The inspiration for this piano came from the frustration that it’s not spring yet – good art always comes from tension, and I think everyone is hungry for some colour at this time of year. The first things that came to my mind were: the crowds at the St. John’s Farmers’ Market (SJFM), and what exactly the SJFM is about. The individual pianos all hold a presence in different parts of Newfoundland, so it’s nice that the piano is in a space that matches the atmosphere it exists in.
The farmers’ market is often full of children. I wished to add colour to the market space for adults, but children and their innocent energy was also a huge motivation. Adults, yes, but children study and pour over the things they find interesting – they are very critical, in a positive way; and I and SassyTuna are definitely up for the challenge of meeting the expectations of children and parents when it comes to fine (and playful) art. I’m thankful I have had such rigorous and interesting training in my years studying art and design and I wish to pay it forward to the generations to come. Teaching children is a wonderful use of these accomplishments and creative energy.
As a final note, the potatoes are added as an homage to Business & Arts NL, being the “root” of such a great program. The fact that they are below the keyboard (and potatoes grow underground, and are an NL staple) and in that humble spot, was my way of placing an additional visual legitimacy to what Business & Arts NL is doing!
Business & Arts NL: There are so many cute little elements, it requires a close eye to catch them all! It’s obvious there was so much thought put into the design. What’s your favourite part of the design and why?
JL: My favourite part is the tomato piano bench and the buttered chicken on the top of the piano. The comedy of sitting on tomatoes in a tomato crate, in order to play, and trying to mix paint that is supposed to look like butter chicken sauce, but that is inedible as you are making it – I wanted people to feel hungry if they weren’t already. When I was done, I allowed myself a plate of buttered chicken from Curry Delight to celebrate!
Business & Arts NL: You mentioned during the unveiling that the smiling carrots and pickles that decorate the legs of the piano and bench, respectively, are at a child’s eye level. Can you tell us how this perspective helped contribute to and shape your creative process?
JL: Before I even saw the piano’s shape, I imagined what it feels like to be a child in the crowd. The theme of this program is called “Come play with me NL,” so the invitation is already set out there. As I worked on the painting steps, it started feeling like a Victorian toybox almost, the base paint being called “Victorian Trim.” I wanted the carousel-playful feel. I had already planned for the stool and piano legs to be carrots and pickles when Business & Arts NL selected my proposal, but when I saw the piano for the first time, the shapes to create these were already carved into the piano legs. It was a pretty sweet coincidence, as I was prepared to work with a rectangle.
Business & Arts NL: What’s been the most rewarding part of this project for you?
JL: The most rewarding part of the project is that I got to work with so many different individuals, and to work on a totally unique project. Seeing Ron Ellsworth at the unveiling, working with Pete Soucy and finding out he did court sketches and went to NSCAD, meeting the (piano donor) Fitzpatrick family and hearing the touching story of their mother, and seeing the impact, and of course working at the St. John’s Farmers’ Market were all treasures that add to what can feel solitary while in-progress. When it’s just you and the brush, at the silent piano, until someone as cool as Mick Davis, Bob Pike and Elliot Dicks play away, it brings the result to life.