DERRY  — The images were spread across the historic Opera House floor, showing a definitive timeline of Derry's rich aviation history.

They represented concepts and ideas for a new mural in town, which will take shape on a wall near a portion of the town's trail system. It will spotlight the community's flying history and its heroes, especially East Derry native Alan B. Shepard Jr., the first American in space.

Artists and volunteers are now planning how the mural will look. Every week, they gather at the Opera House to catch up on research about the history of flight in Derry and what might be best to include in the project. 

So far, there are tributes to flyers like Irene Keith and Judge George Grinnell, along with Shepard. Other flying technologies and their inventors may also be part of the mural.

There are also mentions of other early aviators with local ties, who reached for the skies and made an impact.

Derry Economic Development Director Beverly Donovan said the flight/space exploration theme lends itself well to this portion of the wall along the trail, adding it will be a community effort when it comes time to start the painting process.

The mural work involves a lot of research, Donovan said, from making contacts with families and friends of past explorers, learning the stories, the history and how Derry played a role in some innovative ways of discovering more about the skies and space.

Volunteer Amber Gavriluk sat on the floor of the Opera House one recent afternoon, working on a portion of the mockup design that was sprawled across the floor. She said she walked along the trail for years and knows the proposed wall will be perfect for this mural.

"And I want to be part of something so lasting," she said. "And I'm enjoying learning about Alan Shepard."

Gavriluk was working alongside Anna Latulippe, of Let's Play Music and Make Art, whose students contributed their own original designs for the mural, from colorful rockets and planets to galactic space ships and explorers.

Other areas of the Opera House had additional segments of a mockup mural design laid out, with images of Grinnell, Shepard, early Derry flying clubs, and more.

Local artist Karen Lincoln spearheads the mural design team with a lot of collaboration coming from other areas, including the Derry Heritage Commission to make sure all information and images on the mural are historically accurate.

Lincoln said families offered information and photographs so artists could feature their ancestors' stories. That information may also be recorded to be an extra part of the mural, so people can learn more about aviation history.

"There are so many great stories of people who lived here in Derry," Lincoln said. "I had no idea Derry had a history of such aviators."

She called the history and the flying pioneers "remarkable."

That includes Grinnell who "wanted to get up in the air," Donovan said.

The judge was well known for his work on the legal bench, but also as a bit of a daredevil when it came to flying.

Derry historian Richard Holmes wrote in a column that Grinnell enjoyed flying as an additional outlet for his energy.

"He decided to take up flying and after eight hours of instruction he bought his own float plane," Holmes wrote. "In 1957, he founded the state's Aviation Association. Soon he was flying everywhere, including up to Labrador to fish and help protect the harp seal pups."

The Greater Derry Arts Council/Public Arts Committee welcomes input and help when it comes time to start painting the images on the wall, now painted and primed and ready for details.    


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