Paint the town red: John Pacovsky makes Wilkes-Barre his canvas

Christine Lee, Life Editor

When Katy Betnar first took her son, Brandon, to swim lessons at the Wilkes-Barre YMCA, he was intimidated by the swimming pool environment. But upon noticing the mural  of whales, dolphins and other marine animals, the 2-year-old’s fears were eased.

“It really helps make kids more comfortable with the pool environment,” Betnar, the Wilkes University college-learning specialist, said. “It plays into the Y’s swim program and helps to connect the program to people.”

The mural in the Wilkes-Barre YMCA is one of several by local artist John Pacovsky, of Plymouth, commissioned by Arts YOUniverse and funded through the Mural Fund at the Luzerne Foundation.

“I think introducing the arts in any way, shape or form starts a conversation,” Pacovsky said.

Though he was originally commissioned to paint just a simple logo, Pacovsky said the design quickly turned into a more elaborate project.

“It started as two dolphins looking at each other, because that’s the YMCA’s (swim team) logo,” Pacovsky said. ‘Then someone said ‘What would you do to the wall?’ and I said ‘Well, let’s do it as an aquarium,’ and it turned out to be something that started small and just got bigger and bigger.”

Although the aquarium mural inside the YMCA pool area is attractive, it is upon exiting the YMCA and walking through the adjacent parking lot that one immediately comes upon another of Pacovsky’s murals, and one of his most popular: A large still-life painting of  fruit on the side of Thai Thai.

This mural, the first of those Arts YOUniverse commissioned from Pacovsky, is entitled “Life is Just a 32-Foot-High Bowl of Cherries.” Arts YOUniverse founder Kathleen Godwin described it as “striking.”

“When people pass by, instead of a plain brick wall, they are instead greeted with an exquisite work that proves high culture can be pragmatic,” Godwin said.

Pacovsky said he was working on still-life paintings when he was contacted by Arts YOUniverse to do the mural for the downtown area. At the time, however, he thought the city wouldn’t accept it.

“I thought I probably would have come up with something a little more clever,” Pacovsky said, laughing.

What makes the still-life so popular, though, Pacovsky said, is the simplicity. He said he hears comments on the mural at least every other month.

Godwin said the fruits depicted in the mural remind passersby of the annual Farmer’s Market held in the nearby Public Square during the summer and fall seasons.

“When people look at a close up of the cherries, one can only hope that the Farmer’s Market that takes place on Thursdays in the (Wilkes-Barre Public Square) is open,” she said.

Another popular mural Pacovsky has worked on, along with artists Amber Summers and Katie Martin, is on the site of the former Blum Bros. building on South Main Street next to Boscov’s. When the building was demolished, Arts YOUniverse saw the blank wall as an opportunity to put the artists’ skills to work.

“They are planning on making another Innovation Center but it’s not supposed to be built for a year or two, so (the city) is faced with the option of having this big hole where everybody could walk by and look. So they decided to put up a wall and then paint something on it,” Pacovsky said.

Pacovsky said Arts YOUniverse was open to suggestions but didn’t know what to put there. He said the idea of painting an art gallery would be amusing.

“It would be interesting to look at something on the wall as opposed to a hole in the ground or even just a blank wall,” Pacovsky said.

Pacovsky said the mural is so convincing that, once, while he was painting the “gallery,” he was approached by a woman who asked him what time the “gallery” opened.

“I’m usually not at a loss for words but frankly that threw me off,” Pacovsky said.

Godwin said the painted people depicted gazing at the works of art in the mural are based on local residents that modeled for the “Innovation Gallery.” She said once the center is completed, each of the replication pieces will be installed inside.

Sophomore chemistry major Rachel Gill is one of those who finds Pacovsky’s mural work inspiring.

“They brighten up the area instead of there just being blank brick walls or a blank plywood board,” Gill said. “It brings a different layer to the city that wasn’t there if they were just plain walls.”