Planning a stay at the Inn at Warner Hall (a waterfront bed and breakfast on the Middle Peninsula where you can sleep and paddle)?
Find that it awakens your curiosity to immerse yourself in more of everything Gloucester?
Why not start with an up-close look at its treasured murals (which include a nod to the waterways cherished in the region)? Each was commissioned by The Cook Foundation, a nonprofit with a mission to nurture the arts in the community.
Park for free at Gloucester Courthouse, just a 13-minute drive from the Inn. Wear comfortable walking shoes for the 1.6-mile roundtrip, where you can shop to your heart’s content along the way at the array of small businesses in Gloucester Village.
Almost immediately after leaving your car, you’ll be face-to-face with your first mural, painted on the side of historic Tabb House. Amy Bartlett Wright’s Watermen, Waterfowl was completed in 2019.
The plein air artist blends serene shades of blues, greens and yellows seamlessly for the piece, somewhat reminiscent of the vibrancy of Impressionist art. The 18 x 80 mural honors the men and women who make their living fishing, crabbing and oystering on the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries — a labor-intensive occupation that dates back to the Indians harvesting the bounty of the bay. If the sun is shining, you’ll see even more differing colors from an artist known for boasting a realistic sense of place in her work.
Revel in the mural long enough, and instead of standing on the lawn of the Split Enz Salon staring at the side of Tabb House, you’ll taste the salt, feel the breeze and appreciate the marsh grasses from the Chesapeake Bay. You’ll hear the gulls flying overhead along with the cry of the cranes. Nature’s voices drown out the two watermen on the fishing boat, one pulling in another crab pot, the residue of water dripping from sides.
It’s a pleasant rendition of a way of life still precious to many who call the Middle Peninsula home.
Of course, you can’t help but smile taking in the polychrome cast bronze statue that faces the mural. Jay Lagemann’s whimsical Blue Fisherman, unveiled during the 2021 Gloucester Arts Festival, capturing the exuberance of reeling in a feisty fish.
Peek into Arts on Main (or browse for a while at the art for sale in the community gallery) before heading to Botetourt Avenue, just a few blocks north. On the side of The Silver Box, another stop if you’re looking for gifts, is a mural of a daffodil bouquet titled Narcissi. Louise Chen Jones’ work from 2018 commemorates the first flower of Gloucester. The bouquet was inspired by one given to her when she visited the gardens at Brent & Becky’s Bulbs in Ware Neck, just an eight-minute drive away.
Per Jones’ Instagram feed, “According to their resident daffodil expert, the first daffodils were brought to America from Europe by women who had sewn the bulbs into the hems of their dresses. These bulbs are part of the Narcissus family,” hence the mural’s title.
If you’re planning to return to Gloucester Village dressed up for dinner, the daffodil mural is a wonderful backdrop for a photo op.
Continue walking farther down Main Street and cross when you spot the remains of an old-fashioned Texaco gas station. You’ll find Gloucester’s newest mural there from 2019, the TC Walker Mural that honors the man known as Virginia’s “Black Governor.” Walker was a teacher, lawyer and government official who was born a slave less than a year before President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. He grew up to become the first African American to practice law in Gloucester. Artist Michael Rosato captures significant moments from Walker’s history, including the honey-pod tree near the Gloucester Court House in the middle of Main Street, once a slave block where Walker’s relatives were sold.
As marvelously detailed as each of the moments is, it’s impossible not to be overwhelmed and even a bit intimidated by the dominant image of the older Walker, wearing spectacles, a top hat covering his graying hair. His gaze stares through you and you’ll feel the prodding of the cane he firmly grasps in his left hand. History debates whether Walker actually needed the cane as he often used it to tap and poke at young folks to urge them to “Get busy. Don’t let anything stop you. Persevere.” Your life, he would say, is what you make of it.
The final mural is Gloucester’s oldest, located in Main Street Center on the side of Gloucester Library’s main branch. Commissioned in 2006, the mural titled Life & Legend of Pocahontas celebrates the native Virginia Princess, who was born in Gloucester. This one will require you to crane your neck as it’s gigantic at 150 x 20 or 3,000 square feet. It presents a timeline of Pocahontas’ life that includes her defending John Smith and in the arms of English husband, John Rolfe, holding their child, Thomas. Baltimore artist Michael Kirby created the mural for the first-ever “Pocahontas Family Festival,” as part of the America 400 Anniversary Celebration in 2007.
The colors melt into each other and leave you yearning to head online or your nearest history book to learn more about the first lady of Gloucester. Return after dark for a breathtaking glimpse of the mural lit up by spotlights.