Whatever the season, there is a flower garden in the 300 block of North Mary Street in the city of Lancaster.
This is actually a mural, painted on the walls of a two story house by artists from Friendship Heart Gallery & Studio. The owners of the house, Colin and Julia Morrell, loved seeing the outside walls of their house become a garden and become a local destination.
And it won’t be the only mural by Friendship artists to grace the streets of Lancaster; another is planned for Rachel’s Cafe and Crêperie this fall.
The Friendship Heart Gallery & Studio is a group of creative artists with intellectual disabilities and autism. His main gallery and studio are at 118 N. Water St. Suite 101, in the city of Lancaster; in December, the organization opened a second studio at 1159 E. Oregon Road, Lititz, adjacent to Friendship Community’s main office.
The North Mary Street mural, however, was designed by Colin Morrell. This served to help the artists of Friendship connect with the community, but it also helped Colin Morrell find new purpose after a major life change.
The Morrells owned Aussie & the Fox, a former restaurant on West King Street in the city of Lancaster. The couple decided to close the restaurant in 2018.
“It was the right decision,” Morrell says. “We wanted to start a family, the restaurant was very hard work for both of us, and a buyer came along at the right time.”
They started this family: daughter Phoebe is 2 years old and son Wesley is 6 months old. But walking away from the company wasn’t easy.
“Over time, I started to feel lost and depressed. I missed the interaction with the restaurant staff and customers,” Morrell says. “Then a colleague reminded me of how much I enjoyed the Friendship paintings on display in the restaurant. This made me reach out to artists, and the mural project was born. It became quite a community project, and I enjoyed doing it.
Bringing the vision to life
The mural was painted over a seven-day period in September 2021. Friendship Heart artists painted from 9:30 a.m. to 2 or 3 p.m. daily, Morrell says, working in rotating groups of three and four.
In total, says Colin, 52 artists from Friendship Heart Studio participated, and about six professional artists also lent their efforts.
In his negotiations to bring the project to fruition, Morrell obtained paint from Home Depot and rented a forklift from Gap Power Rentals — two “forever partners” in the ongoing Friendship Heart murals, Morrell says. Lowe also provided painting tools.
Mast Film Co. produced a short documentary about the project, “The Garden”. It’s available to watch at mastfilm.co/ourfilms/the-garden.
“It captures the process beautifully, from the idea taking root back to when the artists paint the mural,” Morrell says of the documentary.
Once the mural was finished, the next step was to protect it. Morrell says the artwork is coated with a product called Mural Shield, which is a non-toxic coating to provide protection against the elements and vandals.
Morrell has just negotiated another outdoor mural on behalf of the band Friendship Heart. This one will bring a Parisian springtime theme to the walls of Rachel’s Cafe & Creperie, 201 W. Walnut St. Artists are expected to begin work on the painting in September.
“I helped the community organization Friendship Heart seize that opportunity and connect the dots, so now I can step back and cheer him on from the sidelines,” Morrell said.
Sarah Rush, Lancaster City studio manager for Friendship Heart, said ‘The Garden’ mural was the perfect opportunity for the Friendship artists.
“Our artists were so excited to help design and paint it,” she says. “It was a great opportunity for them to connect with the community and work on a larger scale. We look forward to more opportunities like this.
Rush says she finds people who see work by Friendship Heart artists are eager to learn more about the program, which has an “Expressing Capabilities” vision statement.
“It means we celebrate artists’ personalities and talents through self-expression and collaboration,” Rush says.
The studio and gallery locations are extensions of the Friendship Community, a non-profit organization serving people with intellectual disabilities and autism. It started in 2007 as a club of 12 budding artists wanting to come together to paint and socialize. They gathered in a room filled with all kinds of craft materials, and Rush says their first finished products included painted glass vases, wooden toys and paintings on canvas. The club has grown over the years and moved from Ephrata to Lancaster in 2013 when the club transitioned to an officially licensed day service program while maintaining two club nights per week.
“We are proud of our gallery,” says Rush. “We’ve updated the lighting and moveable walls, and we’re hosting an individual portfolio for each artist.”
Its galleries also feature items for sale by artists, including jewelry, postcards, and home decor.
As for the mural program, it is now expected to become an annual event, which delights both Colin Morrell and the artists. But the Morrell family also has big changes ahead.
By the end of the year, they plan to move to Australia. “The Garden” mural will remain intact, Morrell says. He and his wife consulted with a real estate attorney about protecting the mural in the building and stated in a bill of sale that the mural would remain. Those responsibilities alone will bring Morrell back to Lancaster on occasion.
“All care and maintenance will be my lifelong responsibility,” Morrell says, “but the mural will be lifelong.”