The fencing erected around the old Ball & Socket factory on West Main Street gives off the appearance of a construction site to most traveling by.
Indeed, there is a tremendous amount of work being done at the facility in anticipation of Ball & Socket Arts finally opening its first building to the public sometime in the very near future. But for three days last week, there was some other work being done that garnered attention.
On May 9, 10, and 11, Wallingford muralist Ryan Christenson, who goes by the name ARCY, was painstakingly creating a special mural that will take up permanent residency at Ball & Socket Arts. The piece — 8 feet high, 36 feet long — captures the area’s history, from canals and trains to bicyclists using the trail that passes right by the old factory.
“I’m amazed,” said Ball & Socket Arts president and co-founder, Ilona Somogyi. “It’s just so beautiful. It really is an amazing work.”
Somogyi reached out to Christenson earlier this year about the project, after realizing that the facility’s “grand opening” was approaching sometime in the spring of 2022. For more than 10 years, Ball & Socket Arts has been working to transform the old factory site on West Main Street into an arts and retail hub, striving to raise the funds needed to turn their vision for the site into a reality.
This year, it was announced that the first building — Building 2 — of the facility would be opening in 2022 and that Ball & Socket’s first tenant would be the popular Cheshire ice cream parlor, Sweet Claude’s Ice Cream, which is currently located on Route 10 in the south end of town.
“When we realized we would actually be able to open sometime this spring … we said, ‘Oh boy, we better get some arts programming going here,’” said Somogyi, with a laugh.
Resident Tom Hearn recommended that Somogyi contact Christenson, and after looking at his previous work, she decided to reach out to discuss a commissioned piece.
“Our theme for this year is past/future, as we are right in this current moment of transition,” said Somogyi. “I sent (Christenson) some raw images (of the history in the area) and he sent back a first draft to get my opinion.”
“When he sent back a second draft, I said, ‘This is beautiful — let’s do it.’ That was it,” she continued.
The mural seems to move from left to right, with images of the area’s historic canal as well as buttons that were manufactured at the factory leading to more modern-day depictions of how the area is utilized. Christenson painted the entire work outside, at times battling gusting winds on Monday and Tuesday.
Part of the appeal, Somogyi admits, was to have Christenson on-site working in full view of the public.
“For me, it was a way to demystify things,” she said. “People could see what the actual effort is that goes into creating a mural — what the actual skill-level is.”
What has impressed Somogyi the most is the detail found in the large-scale work, providing an almost photographic appearance to many elements of the art.
The mural will reside in what is referred to as the Artcade in Building 2 — the expansive entranceway that will lead into Sweet Claude’s on the first floor as well as the second-floor tenant. Large picture windows will showcase the artwork, with lights silhouetting it during the night hours. The hope is that people will be able to see the mural even from outside the facility.
Somogyi admits that there have been “a number of hang-ups” when it comes to opening Building 2 and the new Sweet Claude’s facility. There is still a chance, she stated, that the facility could be ready for visitors by Memorial Day weekend, but that remains very much up in the air.
“I know I will be having ice cream here soon,” said Somogyi, “but unfortunately I just can’t give you an exact date as to when that will be.”
However, Somogyi did reveal that Ball & Socket Arts is “very close” to finalizing an agreement with a second tenant for Building 2, which would occupy the second floor of the structure. No indication was given as to who that tenant might be or what kind of timeframe is expected for their occupying the space, but Somogyi indicated that interest from retail businesses in Ball & Socket Arts “is high.”
For now, Somogyi is just happy to see that the project to which she has dedicated so much of her time, effort and energy over the past decade is finally rounding into shape.
“It’s hard to put into words,” she said. “There are moments when you are in (Building 2) and it’s very noisy, and the work is being done, and it’s kind of exciting. But then, when everyone leaves and it’s quiet, you get to walk around the space…it’s very gratifying.”