Westmoreland museum mural invites visitors to express emotions
The smiles painted on a canvas mounted on a wall at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art on Sunday were enough to make visitors, well, smile.
The black circles artist John Schlimm placed on the white background were eagerly filled in by children and adults, who gave their “faces” purple hair, green teeth, orange eyebrows and even a blue mortar board.
Schlimm, 44, stood by, grinning, as toddlers and seniors brushed strokes of color onto the mural.
An artist and author who lives in St. Marys in Elk County, Schlimm said it was the first museum installation for his ongoing project. “The Smile That Changed the World (Is Yours)” has been mounted in outdoor exhibits in Rehoboth Beach, Del., Washington, D.C., and Canada.
Schlimm said his father, Jack, 77, was his inspiration.
When he was a child, he noticed his father always waved and smiled at people when the two were out.
“I asked him why. He told me the quickest way to make a friend is to smile at a stranger,” Schlimm said.
He worked with Joan McGarry, the museum’s director of education and visitor engagement, to bring the project to The Westmoreland.
The idea seemed perfect to host on the first Sunday of the month, when admission to the museum is free, McGarry said.
Museum staff hope visitors will consider the different portraits they see and whether or not the subjects are smiling, she said.
“We would like people to think about why people smile, or not, in pictures,” she said.
Rainy weather forced the event — originally planned for the North Main Street bridge — inside.
Visitors milled throughout the different exhibits and tried various hands-on art projects.
Kimber and Brian Hess, Hempfield residents who often visit the museum and its Art on Tap events, brought daughters, Brooke, 9, and Bree, 7, to paint their smiles on Sunday.
“Brooke is very interested in art. Everybody loves to paint. They kept adding to their faces. They can’t wait to see it hung up,” Kimber Hess said.
Amanda Magill brought her children — Abigail, 6, Dominic, 8, and Sean, 10 — to the museum for the first time for the event. Her mother, Darlene Neri of North Huntingdon, made her own smile alongside her grandchildren.
“We were trying to think of something to do today. I found it online. They all enjoyed it,” said Amanda Magill of Hempfield.
“The beauty of this project is it’s grass roots. No matter who you are, something as simple as a smile can remind us we all have the power to make a difference. We all need to be reminded of that from time to time,” Schlimm said.
The canvas will remain on view in the museum’s Robertshaw Gallery through July 3 before returning to Schlimm. He said he plans one day to mount a larger installation, “Miles of Our Smiles Across the World.”
“We are in the very early years of this project,” Schlimm said.
Mary Pickels is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-836-5401 or [email protected].