“The surprise of something new”: The Torpedo Factory 40th anniversary mural by Rachel Kerwin

Congratulations to Rachel Kerwin! On Thursday night, amid cake, celebration, and kind remarks by Alexandria Mayor William D. “Bill” Euille, the Torpedo Factory officially unveiled the mural Kerwin created near the waterfront entrance to commemorate our 40th anniversary. Reflecting familiar scenes in and around the building, the mural has been taking shape for months, with each new sporadic burst of color catching the eyes of curious visitors.

When Kerwin began back in March, she knew she was in for an even more intense version of the Torpedo Factory’s typical “working in public” experience, but her interactions with passersby only made the process more enjoyable—and enlightening.

photo by Guido Krüger

“From chats to photo ops to offers to help, it made me aware of how eager our visitors are to get involved with what’s going on in our building,” she says. “In a lot of ways, art provides an opportunity for connection outside the ordinary. The surprise of something new has this great ability to draw people in.”

Kerwin specifically designed the mural to reflect the creativity of the Torpedo Factory and the many ways our artists connect with visitors, but the process of actually painting it made her think even more deeply about what our artists do—and what visitors learn from them.

“For many who come here, the Torpedo Factory experience is really unique, and it becomes a source not only of inspiration, but also education,” she says. “Often, the seclusion of art practice to the studio leaves the larger public unaware of the time or skill it takes to create a piece, and that gap can lead to underestimating the value of art in general. Seeing me paint this mural by hand and by myself prompted so many to comment on the amount of work and further engage with how it was done and the ideas behind it.”

Of course, the Torpedo Factory attracts artists of every level of skill and experience, so Kerwin was amused to find that occasionally, she chatted with someone who was quick to understand that creative projects can also be labors of love.

“While nearly every person who spoke to me commented on the amount of work I had ahead of me, an older Art League student was the only one who looked over the mural and said: ‘Some people have all the fun!'”

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