Meet the Stamford artist creating a tribute to MLK in Norwalk
NORWALK — When Stamford artist Lauren Clayton saw a call for artists to decorate two spots in South Norwalk, she was excited by the idea of beautifying a neighborhood she previously called home.
Born and raised in Stamford, Clayton has history in Norwalk, where her husband’s parents live and where she owns a condo with her husband. Prior to renting out the condo, Clayton and her husband lived in the home
for about a decade.
“I’m in Norwalk all the time between family there and managing our property, as well as art life,” Clayton said. “I have a lot of connections.”
Earlier this year when Clayton read about the call for artist submissions as part of the Martin Luther King Jr. Corridor Arts Program, Clayton knew she wanted to apply.
Funded by a $50,000 appropriation from the city’s 2020-21 capital budget, two sites in South Norwalk will be painted with murals created by Clayton.
The project, part of the Arts Commission’s MLK Corridor Arts Program, requested mural submissions earlier this year. A subcommittee under the commission was created to take on the project with the goal of honoring MLK’s legacy and building a sense of community.
“The idea of the state receiving money to revitalize these namesake streets I thought was really exciting,” Clayton said. “Often bringing art into a space it can revitalize it and it being in MLK’s name, he is obviously such an icon. I’ve drawn him before and listened to his speeches as I was drawing him and became much more immersed in his life as I was working on the project.”
Two locations in South Norwalk, the recently renovated staircase leading down from the South Norwalk train station and the pump station where Wilson and MLK Avenues meet, were chosen for makeovers, according to Sabrina Church, the city’s director of business development and tourism.
“We received eight proposals from eight different artists,” Church previously said. “Each of them submitted for the pump station, but not the stairs, there was only a single submission for stairs.”
Artists from places as far as Puerto Rico, Germany and California submitted proposals for the project, Church said.
Ultimately, Clayton was chosen for the project, due in part to her connection and appreciation of Norwalk as well as the community involvement of her submission, Church said.
Work on the murals is set to begin in the coming weeks, with a ribbon cutting planned for November, Clayton said. She intends to start with the pump station and then complete the staircase.
In her submission, Clayton described a plan to have community members, and anyone interested, help by printing stencils to be affixed to the staircase for Norwalk residents to come paint in the space, like a paint-by-number activity.
While the specifics of community involvement are still to be determined, Clayton said the pieces cannot come to fruition without community help, whether it be sweeping the stairs prior to painting or working to lay the varnish after it is complete.
The pump station will be adorned with the image called “The Promised Land,” according to city documents.
The Promised Land features the image of a Black woman, eyes closed, her hair extending into the background, blending with the trees and roots surrounding her. The words harmony, prosperity, compassion, freedom, empathy and respect are written around her.
“Any public works place, you’re inviting the community to be involved, even in the way of being a spectator,” Clayton said. “When I was there, I went to look at the site and it reminded me of trying to capture people in a neighborhood and ideas of what MLK was all about and seeing this land where we were on much more equal ground.”
For the staircase, Clayton designed a quote from King that reads, “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase,” in bright colors descending the steps.
Clayton is particularly connected with the staircase piece of the project, as her in-laws used to live nearby, and she often took the staircase to visit them or take the train.
“The staircase is just so cool, it’s such an iconic staircase too,” Clayton said. “When going up to their homes, the train station, it’s just a reminder of this idea that you can be willing to move forward without knowing how it’s going to pan out. That’s the nature of believing and faith. In today’s times we all need faith, not necessarily in religion but trusting the universe and trusting things will work out.”