Short Walk Through History:  The Library Wall

In about the same distance it takes for a hop, skip and long jump, you can travel through more than 350 years of Old Saybrook history that attractively adorns the wall at the Acton Public Library.

This hallway of history is jam-packed with colorful bas-relief tiles showcasing a cast of ceramic characters, places and events that highlight the tides of time in our shoreline community.

The tiles have a fascinating story of their own and began, like so many projects, with the need to raise funds in 1999 for a 14,000 square-foot addition to the popular Library.

Supporters of the library were challenged by a million-dollar matching grant from William Tucker, former owner of Fortune Plastics and a long time member of the local Board of Finance, and his wife, Library Board member Ruby Lou.   They offered to simply and generously give a dollar for every dollar raised.

So, when noted art collector and local adult education organizer Barbara Spargo came upon colorful ceramic tiles that lined the wall in the Westport library, she thought the display was breath-taking and soon escorted other Saybrook residents to the Westport site where they were equally enthused and imported the idea back to Saybrook.

A Tides of Time committee was formed with former Selectwoman Barbara Maynard, Town Historian Elaine Staplins, Midge Cook, Gratia Lewis and Ms. Spargo serving as chairperson.

They met with artist Marion Grebow, the creator who sculpted and painted the tiles, and who today maintains a studio in Redding, and they arranged with her to prepare custom designed tiles to tell the history of Saybrook.

To raise funds the committee sold ninety-three 12” x 12” tiles for $2000, ninety-three 6” x 6” for $750, and various other sizes with the smallest being individual book bindings for $75 that serve as a border for the 26 foot mural.

Each picture tile is sculpted and made into a plaster mold.  Then a liquid form of clay is poured into the mold, dried and fired in a kiln for 10 to 15 hours to make the actual tile.  The tiles are then painted, glazed and fired again.

The scenes depict the first settlers arriving in 1635, Lady Fenwick, Lion Gardiner and the first fort, the Acton Public Library in 1873, David Bushnell’s submarine, the railroad, beginning of Yale College, dozens of other historic highlights and a scattering of graduations, anniversaries and significant events.

The collaborative effort raised funds and remains today as an educational and aesthetically appealing mural of the town’s historic heritage.

”I felt our town needed a legacy, a history depicting our start, our important landmarks, the things that people don’t know that took place in Old Saybrook,” Ms. Spargo said at the time.  “People don’t realize how much history we have in town.”

Hopefully, townspeople will preserve and protect the town’s remaining historic resources so they, as well as the tiles on the Library wall, will continue to inform and inspire future generations.

Copyright Tedd Levy