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Painter hopes to create another mural on Empsall Plaza wall

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WATERTOWN — Muralist Jason E. Brown just wants a second chance.

Mr. Brown would like to persuade the Empsall Plaza building’s new owner to let him create a new mural after hearing she intends to remove the painting he completed on the building’s exterior five years ago.

“I think I if I had a second chance, I could create something amazing and epic for the whole community,” he said.

He was sorry to hear that the building’s new owner, Vina Aileen C. Bonner, intends to erase the mural that has greeted downtown visitors since he painted it as an aspiring artist in 2009.

Describing it as an eyesore, Mrs. Bonner said last week that she plans to remove the stucco on the wall and restore the facade to its original brick. Since then, many local residents have expressed their dislike for the three-story mural symbolizing Watertown’s association with Fort Drum.

Mr. Brown was hired by the building’s former owner, Psychedelic Entertainment LLC, Englewood, Calif., to create a mural on the 4,600-square-foot stucco wall and dedicate it to Jefferson County, the Afghanistan war and soldiers fighting for freedom. The mural is on the building’s southeast wall and faces the J.B. Wise parking lot. It shows two soldiers and a peace sign near a river with a bright orange sun blazing in the background. At the time, it was the biggest mural he had ever painted.

Mr. Brown, son of Sharon Capone Brown and recently retired Jefferson County Probation Director Edward E. Brown, now owns his own business, Be Free Artistry. He markets his own work and said most of his commissions come by word of mouth.

Mr. Brown now lives in Colorado and has completed about three dozen murals across the country during the past five years. He said it would be “ethically and morally wrong” to “erase” a piece of art someone else had created.

In town over the weekend for his father’s retirement party, Mr. Brown said he had hoped to talk to Mrs. Bonner about replacing the mural with another one, but she had not responded by Sunday night. He returned to Denver Monday. Mrs. Bonner could not be reached for comment.

Public art is an important part of a community, Mr. Brown said. Talking about his mural, he said people can like it, hate it or be ambivalent, but it should generate discussion.

“It’s proved its point,” Mr. Brown said. “I’d like to see a change.”

Since completing the Empsall Plaza painting, Mr. Brown has been commissioned to paint murals inside homes as well as outdoor murals for businesses. His favorite is an outdoor mural he did for a gardening store in Colorado.

Some of the murals are as large as 90 feet wide by 30 feet tall. They can be seen in Lake Tahoe, Calif., Asheville and Boone, N.C., and Denver. The works usually take 75 to 90 gallons of paint and require about two weeks to complete.

The Empsall Plaza mural was not a good experience, he said. The building’s former owner, Psychedelic Entertainment, took advantage of him when he was a young artist, Mr. Brown said. With the financial backing of his family, he spent about $5,000 to complete the mural.

He now imagines what that wall might become. “I think the stage is set” to help Mrs. Bonner and the community, Mr. Brown said.

Mrs. Bonner acquired the building from Florida-based lending company Bayview Loan Servicing LLC for $132,000. She plans to open FunScape, an indoor children’s play area, in a portion of Empsall Plaza near where Velocity, a similar business, closed in July. She intends to complete a $624,000 renovation on that section of the building.

Neighbors of Watertown Inc. bought the other two sections of Empsall Plaza and plans to renovate them for commercial space.

On Monday, two local art enthusiasts contended that public art is an important asset for the community. They said they hope the building owner will reconsider her plans to return the building’s facade to brick and instead agree to replace it with another mural.

Although she might have chosen different colors for the mural, Lucinda D. Barbour, an associate professor of art at Jefferson Community College, said it has “a great space.”

“I think that wall needs something,” Ms. Barbour said, adding that a mural at a renovated fountain on nearby Public Square demonstrates how public art can improve a community.

Elizabeth L. Hurst, who runs a joint arts-education program with the Watertown Y and the North Country Arts Council, said Mr. Brown deserves another shot.

“You can’t please everybody,” she said.

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