The fence erected around the former Ball & Socket factory on West Main Street gives the appearance of a construction site to most travelers.
Indeed, there is a huge amount of work going on at the facility in anticipation of Ball & Socket Arts finally opening its first building to the public in the very near future. But for three days last week, other work in progress captured the spotlight.
On May 9, 10 and 11, Wallingford muralist Ryan Christenson, who goes by the name ARCY, painstakingly created a special mural that will take up permanent residence at Ball & Socket Arts. The piece – 8ft high, 36ft long – captures the history of the area, from canals and trains to cyclists taking the path that passes right by the old factory.
“I’m amazed,” said Ball & Socket Arts President and Co-Founder Ilona Somogyi. ” It’s so beautiful. It really is amazing work.”
Somogyi reached out to Christenson earlier this year about the project, after realizing the facility’s “grand opening” was approaching in the spring of 2022. For more than 10 years, Ball & Socket Arts has worked to transform the former site of the factory on West Main Street into an arts and business hub, striving to raise the funds needed to turn their vision for the site into reality.
This year it was announced that the first building – Building 2 – of the facility would open in 2022 and that Ball & Socket’s first tenant would be Cheshire’s famous ice cream parlor, Sweet Claude’s Ice Cream, which is currently located on Route 10. at the south end of town.
“When we realized we’d be able to open this spring…we said, ‘Oh my God, we better start some arts programming here,'” Somogyi said with a laugh.
Resident Tom Hearn recommended Somogyi contact Christenson, and after reviewing her previous work, she decided to reach out to discuss a commissioned piece.
“Our theme for this year is Past/Future, as we are in this moment of transition,” Somogyi said. “I sent (Christenson) some raw footage (of the area’s history) and he sent me back a first draft for my opinion.”
“When he sent back a second draft, I said, ‘That’s beautiful – let’s do it. That was it,” she continued.
The mural appears to move from left to right, with images of the area’s historic canal as well as factory-made knobs leading to more modern depictions of how the area is used. Christenson painted all of the work outdoors, sometimes battling gusty winds on Mondays and Tuesdays.
Part of the appeal, Somogyi admits, was having Christenson on site working in public view.
“For me, it was a way to demystify things,” she said. “People could see what the actual effort required to create a mural is – what the actual skill level is.”
What impressed Somogyi most was the detail found in the large-scale work, giving an almost photographic appearance to many elements of the art.
The mural will reside in what is called the Artcade in Building 2 – the expansive entrance that will lead to Sweet Claude’s on the first floor as well as the second floor tenant. Large picture windows will showcase the artwork, with lights that will cut it out at night. The hope is that people will be able to view the mural even from outside the facility.
Somogyi admits that there were “a number of blockages” during the opening of Building 2 and the new Sweet Claude facilities. There’s still a chance, she said, that the facility will be ready for visitors by Memorial Day weekend, but that remains very much up in the air.
“I know I’ll be eating ice cream here soon,” Somogyi said, “but unfortunately I just can’t give you an exact date for when that will be.”
However, Somogyi revealed that Ball & Socket Arts is “very close” to finalizing an agreement with a second tenant for Building 2, which would occupy the structure’s second floor. No indication was given as to who that tenant might be or what kind of time frame is expected for the space to be occupied, but Somogyi said retail interest in Ball & Socket Arts “is high. “.
For now, Somogyi is just happy to see that the project she has put so much time, effort and energy into for the past decade is finally taking shape.
“It’s hard to put into words,” she said. “There are times when you’re in (Building 2) and it’s really loud, and work is going on, and it’s pretty exciting. But then when everyone leaves and it’s quiet, you can walk around in space…it’s very rewarding.