Artist Jim Winegar of Graysville, Greene County, Pa., works on an informational sign for a new Brownsville mural with Juliana Gernot, 15, of Monessen, who is attending his summer art class at Douglas Education Center in Monessen. (Scott Beveridge/Observer-Reporter)
By Scott Beveridge
MONESSEN – Jim Winegar's most rewarding experiences teaching art involved prison classes attended by men, including some serving life sentences for homicide.
The convicts where he worked at State Correctional Institution-Fayette, were some of the best-behaved students the Graysville potter has ever worked with, "even though they were men who did some terrible things," Winegar, 63, said.
"They monitor their conduct. They have to earn the right to qualify for the art program," he said. "They conduct themselves better than probably most students I've had."
He oversaw their work on a large mural on cloth of Brownsville's historic cast iron bridge in a scrapbook design now adhered to a brick wall beside the borough's downtown Market Street parking lot. His job later was eliminated by state budget cuts.
That mural caught the eye of Brownsville resident Patricia DeConcilis, vice president of academic affairs at Douglas Education Center in Monessen. She decided to get Winegar involved in creating a second mural for her hometown this summer at the school in a program for teens ages 14 to 17.
"I just love that mural down there," DeConcilis said. "I feel we have a real pro here," she said, while Winegar and his new students worked on a mural depicting the steamboat Enterprise.
The side-wheeler launched at Brownsville in 1814 became the first to navigate the Monongahela and Ohio rivers to Louisville, Ky., and back. It also made the first round trip between Louisville and New Orleans, revolutionizing transportation in the nation.
"I think it's really good for the kids because they have something to show, take a friend, parent and say, 'Look what I did,'" said Bobbi Fine, a Washington tattoo artist who also teaches at Douglas.
"It's pretty amazing," added student Garrett Werner, 16, of Belle Vernon. "It shows one of the world's greatest inventions."
Winegar said he chose to do the murals in panels in a process developed at the State Correctional Institution-Graterford.
"This is the best practice," he said. "It's perfect for inmates who can't leave a prison."
The designs are enlarged onto a wall covered with the fabric, using an opaque projector, and then sketched onto the material. The thin material is the same used to stiffen shirt collars.
Ultraviolet light-resistant paints made in Culver City, Calif., are then used to create the art, which has a durability of at least 25 years after being glued outdoors and covered with sealant.
"It's almost like a big wallpapering project. It shrinks after it dries and looks as if it's painted right onto the brick," Winegar said.
The second mural now adorns a wall of a building at the entrance to Brownsville Riverside Wharf Park.
After receiving approval from the state Department of Corrections, the other one contains the names of eight prison artists, some of whom are serving sentences for drug or sexual assault convictions. Three of them, Tito McGill, Terry Kightlinger and Charles "Duffy" Linton, are serving life sentences for murder.
Eventually the town will contain a string of such murals, using the scrapbook theme of looking back on its history, said Norma Ryan, a member of the Brownsville Area Revitalization Corp.
Watch a video montage of the mural being hung.
(This article first appeared in the Observer-Reporter newspaper in Washington, Pa.)