Buzzards Bay Information Center gets a facelift by local Cape artisans
Visitors to Cape Cod are greeted by artisans’ interpretations of the region’s unique surroundings.
Summers on Cape Cod are for making memories. Travelers come from all over the world to wiggle their toes in the sand next to slowly rolling waves, explore the Cape’s many historical landmarks, or reel in a big striper along the Cape Cod Canal. But for tourists in need of directions or a guide to local activities, a quick stop at the visitor’s center is often their first experience of the Cape—and it can leave a lasting impression.
“Just as our home represents who we are, public spaces reflect who the community is,” says Boston-based Fort Hill Companies architect Anthi Frangiadis, who coordinated a recent renovation of the Buzzards Bay Information Center, operated by the Cape Cod Canal Region Chamber of Commerce. “If a public space is run down, it doesn’t reflect well upon the community. Public spaces should be uplifting.”
Frangiadis is a longtime member of the Cape Cod Canal Region Chamber of Commerce, and she often donates her time and talents to the chamber’s public events. It was while hanging artwork in the information center for the 2014 Centennial Celebration of the Cape Cod Canal that Frangiadis noticed the center looked “a little dreary,” she says. “I’m always very aware of my environment and what kind of experience it creates,” Frangiadis explains. “Our environments affect us in ways we’re not fully conscious of.”
Frangiadis consciously felt the visitor’s center was impersonal and institutional – the opposite of welcoming. She shared her concerns with Canal Chamber President Marie Oliva, who agreed that the center could use some sprucing up. Together they applied and approved for funding through the town’s Community Preservation Act, and Frangiadis was given the task of facilitating the renovations, ultimately garnering a 2016 BRICC award for her efforts. “The first thing I noticed was that the center was lacking a focal point,” Frangiadis says. “And what’s the focal point of any visitor’s center? It’s the person welcoming you. So we wanted to create something special for the reception area.”
She contacted local artist Alvin Winant of Place Unique Forms, who creates one-of-a-kind textural map sculptures from computer-generated topographic data. Winant is one of several artisans whose work is featured at Frangiadis’ showroom, “The Drawing Room,” in nearby Marion.
“Anthi and I decided an intriguing idea would be to create an information desk that also helps visitors navigate this area of the Cape,” Winant says. Winant created a computer model of the Cape Cod Canal and surrounding shorelines of Sandwich, Bourne and Wareham. He carved a three-dimensional landscape from layered Baltic birch plywood and used tinted jewelry resin to create the map’s high tide mark, so as to mimic the waves on the shore.
“The finished form includes topographical accuracy both above and below the water line,” Winant says. “The landscape on the Cape is always shifting due to storms, so I fine-tuned the details with the latest Google Earth imagery.”
Winant’s topography sculpture is encased in clear glass and extends the full length of the center’s circular reception desk. The finishing touch is the desk’s interior lighting, which serves to brilliantly illuminate the sculpture and create the focal-point effect Frangiadis envisioned.
The project was special to Winant for personal reasons. “I felt a little thrill when I was carving areas where I’ve personally kayaked and hiked,” he says.
To vitalize the center’s barren walls, Frangiadis enlisted Cape Cod fine art painter Katherine Hallam, owner of Whimsical Notions based in Bourne. “The information center showcases over 25 dry-mounted historical photos from this area,” says Hallam, who lives in Gray Gables. “The majority of the photos came from the Bourne Historical Society archives, but others came from my own collection, so I have a personal connection to them.”
Hallam, a muralist, says her biggest artistic challenge was the center’s long-neglected restrooms, which Frangiadis describes as dismal. “People come to the information center from all parts of the world, and they always use the restrooms,” she explains. “So I came up with the idea of painting postcard vignettes, or postcard murals, on the bathroom walls.”
Inspired by the Bourne Historical Society archives, as well as her own collection of family photographs, Hallam incorporated those images into her artwork. “In the men’s room there’s a painting of an elderly gentleman quahogging, and that’s actually my father. I took the photo that inspired the painting myself,” she remembers. Hallam felt the image was fitting because shellfishing is a quintessential activity that is unique to these parts.
Another mural depicts a man proudly holding up a striped bass, with the Cape Cod Canal Railroad Bridge visible in the background. “The man in the picture is a retired police officer from the Bourne Police Department, and he’s an avid fisherman,” Hallam explains. “I thought this picture was perfect because every man who’s ever fished on Cape Cod remembers catching his first striper.” For the ladies’ room, Hallam created a different kind of imagery. “There’s a mural of a mother and her children, with a little bit of surf. It reminds me of my own childhood, and of being on the beach with my mom and my brother,” she says.
Adding personal touches and details that bring meaning to the design is what Frangiadis calls enriching the work. “It has more meaning to translate something real, with life in it, rather than random art to fill an empty space,” Frangiadis says. “We could have purchased generic seashore paintings and hung them up, but we wanted to show who we are as a community. We wanted to show our history. There is thought invested in the details.”
That attention to detail extends to the paint Frangiadis chose for the center’s interior walls. “The color palette is by Farrow & Ball, an English paint manufacturer that creates paint according to historic formulations,” Frangiadis explains. All paint consists of five ingredients: pigment, water, binder, fillers and resin. But Farrow & Ball uses approximately 30 percent more pigment and finer ingredients than most paint manufacturers. Their palette works well with historic buildings, which was an important consideration for the center’s facelift.
The Farrow & Ball red hues were a good match for the building’s existing exterior color scheme. “The building has a terracotta roof, which is very uncommon around here, so we wanted to bring that red tone into the interior design,” Frangiadis says. “Often there’s a total disconnect between the interior and exterior of a building.”
For the information center’s hallways, Frangiadis again turned to Hallam, who painted colorful Cape Cod fish species on local navigational and bathymetric charts. The effect is both striking and enchanting. “I painted striped bass and codfish on navigational charts of Cape Cod Bay, and an oyster on another local navigational chart,” Hallam explains.
Hallam takes special pride in her painting of a bluefin tuna on a blue bathymetric chart, a chart that details submerged terrain. “I chose the bathymetric chart because it’s a beautiful hydrangea blue,” Hallam says. “On that chart you see Stellwagen Bank, which is where a lot of tuna fishermen go to catch bluefin, so it just happened to be a perfect match.”
Hallam says she is honored that her art was chosen to represent the history of Cape Cod. “It was a pleasure to do work that supports the community and enhances the beauty of the buildings in my own hometown.”
Reflecting on her postcard murals’ nostalgic feel, she adds, “When I look back at my childhood photos, I can still smell the sun tan lotion and taste the peanut butter sandwiches, or feel the sensation of being covered with sand; I know I’m not the only one who feels that way about the Cape.”
To Frangiadis, the Buzzards Bay Information Center has become a special place, a “whole experience in itself.”
“It shows that the community cares about itself, because it’s investing in maintaining the significant landmarks and their history,” Frangiadis says. “There was a lot of thought that went into the fact that people from all over the world vacation here. It’s about creating an experience for them while preserving the history of the building. That’s ultimately what this project is about: an appreciation of what came before.”
Hallam sums it up: “The Cape is a special place, and we wanted to help create a memorable experience for everyone who comes here. We hope that when you come here, you’ll take home a little bit of knowledge of our history, and the feeling of who we are on Cape Cod.”
Mara Brooks is a longtime newspaper reporter who currently lives in Sandwich with her family and four wonderful dogs.
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