Run­ner’s art re­cap­tures Bos­ton Marathon’s joy


With her run­ning shoes and her paint­brush, Hope Phelan is try­ing to re­cap­ture the joy and whimsy of the Bos­ton Marathon.

An artist and a com­pet­i­tive dis­tance run­ner, Phelan has cre­ated a se­ries of paint­ings that cel­e­brate the race — and de­lib­er­ately ig­nore its ter­ror­ist scars.

The women of Welles­ley Col­lege of­fer kisses and palm slaps to pass­ing ath­letes in “Welles­ley Scream Tun­nel.” “Heart­break Hill” cap­tures the eu­pho­ria that ex­hausted run­ners feel once they’ve con­quered it. “The Home Stretch” shows com­peti­tors surg­ing past Bos­ton’s iconic Citgo sign and zero­ing in on the fin­ish line.

“I was try­ing to bring it back to the way I re­mem­ber it. I wanted to bring the fun back,” said Phelan, 26, a pro­fes­sional painter and art teacher from Hing­ham, south of Bos­ton, who grew up vis­it­ing ev­ery April to watch the race.

Two years af­ter bombs killed three spec­ta­tors and wounded more than 260, Phelan’s art re­flects a grow­ing de­sire in the run­ning com­mu­nity to re­claim what Amer­ica’s most beloved marathon was in­tended to be when it was founded 119 years ago: an am­a­teur footrace staged purely to see who was the fastest.

“It’s a pa­gan rite of spring — a cel­e­bra­tion at that time of year when there is hope again,” said Tom Derde­rian, a Greater Bos­ton Track Club coach and au­thor of “The Bos­ton Marathon: A Cel­e­bra­tion of the World’s Pre­mier Race.”

“A ter­ri­ble crime was com­mit­ted,” he said. “But as the years go by, the Bos­ton Marathon will be more and more of a footrace and less and less of a crime scene.”

On April 15, 2013, Phelan had fin­ished her first Bos­ton Marathon in just over 3 hours and was a few blocks away cel­e­brat­ing when she heard the ex­plo­sions.

“We saw peo­ple run­ning and scream­ing. It was re­ally trau­matic,” she said.

To deal with her stress, Phelan made an ab­stract paint­ing she ti­tled sim­ply “Bos­ton Marathon 2013”: a dark, brood­ing work with splashes of red acrylic rem­i­nis­cent of the blood that spat­tered Boyl­ston Street that day.

“I was just throw­ing paint at the can­vas,” she re­calls. “It was re­ally emo­tional and ex­pres­sive.”

Last year, to raise money for sur­vivors on the an­niver­sary of the bomb­ings, Phelan — an ex­pres­sion­ist plein air, or open air, painter who sells her work on Etsy un­der her maiden name, Hope Rath­nam — was in­spired to cre­ate more paint­ings.

But th­ese were dif­fer­ent: bright, col­or­ful, play­ful de­pic­tions of ath­letes and spec­ta­tors in­ter­act­ing along the fa­bled 42.2-kilo­me­ter (26.2-mile) course that stretches from Hop­kin­ton to Bos­ton.

One whim­si­cal work, “The Fin­ish Line,” was painted on one of the foil blan­kets fin­ish­ers are given to keep warm. The back­drop for an­other is a col­lage of Phelan’s race bib num­bers.

The paint­ings are be­ing dis­played through the April 20 run­ning of this year’s race at Marathon Sports, a run­ning shop at Mile 23 in Brook­line.

Phelan, who now lives in Easthampton, hopes her art will en­cour­age oth­ers to re-em­brace its peo­ple and pageantry.

“The Bos­ton Marathon is like a pa­rade. Peo­ple are scream­ing and it’s loud and there’s wa­ter be­ing thrown at you,” she said.

“I’m hop­ing it’s just go­ing to go back to nor­mal. Be­cause it was great be­fore.”


(Left) In this Thurs­day, April 2 photo pro­vided by Hope Phelan, run­ners surge past Bos­ton’s iconic Citgo sign as they head to­ward the Bos­ton Marathon fin­ish in “The Home Stretch,” a paint­ing by Hope Phelan of Easthampton. (Right) In this March 27 photo, Alexan­dra Gast, left, and Hope Phelan of Easthampton, Mas­sachusetts, view “Heart­break Hill,” part of a col­lec­tion of Bos­ton Marathon-in­spired paint­ings on dis­play at Marathon Sports in Brook­line, Mas­sachusetts.


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