“The Hestia Art Collective was formed in 1978 when a group of women artists came together to paint a mural celebrating local women’s history. The case for women’s rights and recognition of their history and contributions aligned with other civil rights and social justice movements that defined the era. In response to these issues a number of artists began to use public murals as a form of activism. The pending failure of the Equal Rights Amendment (E.R.A.) made the issue of better public understanding and support of women’s rights more critical. It was in this social and political climate that the Hestia artists came together to make the almost invisible history of women visible through the means of a large public mural. The result is the History of Women in Northampton, 1600-1980, located at 61 Masonic St. on a building currently occupied by Verizon, in Northampton Mass. The mural is 35 ft. by 100 ft., and faces a large parking lot just off Main St. Originally painted in 1980 and substantially restored in 2003, the mural depicts three centuries of women’s history in Northampton, bringing back from obscurity women’s contributions to Northampton society and culture. This went beyond just identifying known figures; the mural also honors the nameless women who worked in the home, the arts, factories, agriculture, education and who worked together for social change. Figurative representation is diverse in race and class.
At the time, the Hestia mural was the ONLY such mural in Western Mass., and remains the largest. It may have been the first public mural in the country dedicated to women’s history. We also published a booklet that further captures our research and serves as a guide to the mural imagery. In 1986, the mural received the Governor’s Design Award. Since its completion, the project is used as a teaching aid for local and women’s history in local K-12 schools and Smith College women’s history classes. The mural paint system has held up extremely well since restoration in 2003. Unfortunately, last year, someone applied a coating or perhaps a solvent to the bottom third of the mural. This resulted in a white haze, drips and paint loss over this section, ruining the visual appearance of major figures and groups in these areas. Restoration will require conservator’s services to neutralize any chemicals applied to the mural, judiciously apply infill painting where there is paint loss, reapply the protective coating, and repair any other damage in this area. Our primary goal is to ensure that this artwork, and visual record of women’s contributions to Northampton (and by extension, the region), is preserved for the community for years to come. Finally, we plan to develop a maintenance manual for distribution to concerned parties in an effort to prevent future damage and identify a sponsor for the mural’s ongoing stewardship.” Rebecca Muller, The Hestia Art Collective