When Providence RECenter Aquatic Supervisor Ginger Colón looks at the walls and windows, she sees blank palettes waiting to be painted. To her, they are a canvas for telling stories, and her imagination goes into overdrive as she ponders the possibilities. Art has been a lifelong passion for Colón, and flat surfaces inside the RECenter provide a unique venue for sharing her creative gifts with people. For over a year, Colón’s colorful murals have brightened up the RECenter and brought joy to countless patrons.
Colón’s murals change with the season. Currently, visitors to the RECenter are greeted by a large polar bear ice skating with a penguin on a frozen pond. This mural painted on the windows of the staff offices adds a splash of color to the main lobby while obscuring the activities of the people inside. The big, smiling faces of the skating pair are warm and friendly. Patrons looking at the windows next to the skating animals will notice more familiar faces. Staff members ride snowboards, climb mountains, hang from branches, skate on a pond, throw snowballs, dangle from cliffs, and warm up by a fire. Colón created the images by pasting photos of her coworkers’ faces on bodies that she drew. “Staff and customers love it,” she said. “They have all been really good sports.”
In the past, Providence had paid an artist to decorate the RECenter. But when Colón was given permission to try painting last winter, she made the most of her opportunity. Her first mural was painted on the windows looking out to the sundeck and depicted penguins engaged in a snowball fight. Each panel told a story, and the patrons had fun with the final scene where a hiding penguin was hit with a snowball. After the success of Colón’s first mural, Manager Patti Stevenson gave her permission to paint the hallway leading to the pool.
Colón chose to paint an underwater scene. The mural, which is about as tall as a child, extends the full length of the hallway and covers both walls. Apprehensive children may be soothed by the sight of the familiar clownfish hiding behind the door. Adding to the aquatic atmosphere is a young sea turtle with oversized flippers gliding along the current while his larger parent peeks backward. A school of triangular tropical fish swim in formation, and a dolphin waves hello with its flipper. A timid crab peeks over a rock, and a jellyfish bobs lazily, eyes closed, tentacles dangling, seemingly without a care in the world. Clams open their shells to reveal tiny treasures, and starfish cling to colorful coral. Colón says she loves the surprised reaction of children when they recognize the characters. “They’re coming for a swimming lesson, maybe their first, and they know it’s a friendly place to be. It truly blesses my heart to make them happy.”
Growing up in California, Colón always liked painting landscapes and seascapes. It was her way of relaxing. “I get lost in my seascapes,” she said. As a child, Colón drew cartoon figures and portraits of her family and friends. She took art classes in high school and later became a professional cake decorator. She designed cakes for all occasions. When Colón worked in the Fairfax County Public Schools as an instructional assistant, she would make a heart-shaped cake every Valentine’s Day. The cake looked like a box of candy, and the lid read, “Teaching is a work of heart.” Students who saw her murals outside her fourth-grade classroom would tell her she should be the art teacher. “They always loved to walk by and see the work in progress,” Colón recalls.
It’s not just children who enjoy Colón’s murals. Patrons stop by her office to let her know they appreciate the paintings. “Customers doing water walking tell me how much they relax and love to look at the paintings. It makes them feel so happy,” she said. One patron asked Colón to re-create a polar bear on a piece of wood for a Christmas display in Vienna. “I drew it and she painted it. Things like that are why I love art – making others happy,” she said.
Although it pains her to see her window paintings removed, Colón is always thinking about her next subject. To prepare for a new mural, she takes photos with her phone and sketches the pictures freehand to add her own designs. She also studies window design videos on YouTube. Once the windows have been decorated for Valentine’s Day, Colón will turn her focus to the summer mural. She’s looking forward to painting palm trees and beaches, subjects close to her heart.
The customers enjoy the changing murals, and staff members continue to wonder in what scenes Colón will paint them next. Colón said she loves painting murals so much that she’d do it even if it only paid jelly beans. Summing up why she paints the murals, she said, “Everyone is given gifts, sweet spots, something that is easy to do. So I love to do this because it really brings me so much joy in my heart to share a gift that was given to me from up above.”
Written by Matthew Kaiser, deputy public information officer