The Magic of Murals

Murals date far back into history and have appeared in multiple cultures and countries — take this ancient art form that has evolved over the years and turn your walls into something remarkable.Murals are a story book.

Dating back 11,000 years, early murals show the establishment of order to the world. They can be a dreamy, historic or geographic illustration of a place in time, or a place in our minds. Murals can be as fanciful as a painting of fairytale figures waltzing on a nursery room wall or complex enough to create a lively debate over brandy among friends in the sitting room, pondering who, why and where the story in the mural exists.

The very personal story these murals tell is what artist Judy Dibble of Brookwood Designs loves the most. Judy’s daughter Amanda Dibble is her artistic partner offering different, yet complementary skills. “Whatever someone imagines, our brushes can produce,” says Judy Dibble. The excitement grows as they work closely with their clients to bring to life a favorite memory, location or to create a record of their family history.

The Italian scene (pictured above, photo 2) embodies these creative possibilities. The mural was a Christmas gift from a client to her husband, and it depicts his home village in the Tuscan valley where he grew up. His son stands on a replica of his mother’s balcony; there is a picture of his father as well as a wine bottle that represents the family vineyards.

Murals can accomplish a myriad of feats. They can be decorative, they can hide a multitude of sins on imperfect walls or they can create an illusion of something that isn’t there at all.

In the tiny space pictured above (photo 3), a portal is created to provide an expansive view of an English Country garden so realistic you can almost smell the flowers. “Your mind opens up the space and makes it large,” says Dibble.

Employing faux finish techniques creates a two-dimensional paint effect that imitates another material like wood, stone or plaster. The trompe l’oeil (“fool the eye”) technique creates three-dimensional realism. Used together, these techniques allow muralists to create the mirage of your choice, making it easy to overcome many architectural and decorative challenges. As Dibble notes, “Murals are decorating tools that are both creative as well as practical.”

The Capitol Center for the Arts was the most magical transformation Judy Dibble has experienced. To comply with fire codes, cement board was used to build the wainscoting, pilasters, columns and crown molding in the 80′ x 80′ Governor’s Hall and the adjacent lobby. The dull gray of that material was wood-grained to match an existing wood bar.

While every picture tells a story, artist David B. Wiggins has a story to tell. Painting murals for 40 years, he follows a New England tradition of the old masters that existed in the 19th century. He is part of a definitive group of itinerate folk artists who travel and live in people’s homes while crafting their murals.

A self-taught artist, Wiggins tried his hand restoring vintage murals that he couldn’t stand to see destroyed. To create the look of distressed patina he masterfully experiments with every medium from milk paint to burlap, achieving the desired color, finish and texture. Wiggins notes, “The most important thing to my clients is that the mural look like it’s been there for a long time.”

His murals embrace the walls, defining the space with simple, decorative scenes using a soothing, limited color palate. He works in collaboration with other artists, each of whom has his or her specialty. They approach their projects like improvisational jazz musicians in a jam session. While many murals are extremely planned, Wiggins’ work is not.

Completely extemporaneous, he goes straight to the wall and paints. He just feels it; his images flow almost effortlessly from his brush. Wiggins is a savant, a natural talent whose craft preserves a bygone era, bringing new life to this age-old art form.

If you’ve always dreamed of marble pillars surrounding your Jacuzzi, paint techniques can create this mirage without all of the heavy lifting. Few decorative mediums can accomplish this drama for such a relatively low cost.

For those who think murals are cost prohibitive, particularly because you can’t move the investment with you, bear in mind that murals can be painted on canvas, applied to the wall, removed and hung elsewhere at a later time. Paint is the medium that allows skillful artisans to create these amazing illusions rendered by their brush work. These timeless art forms are a pleasure for those lucky enough to enjoy now and in the future. NH

Hidden TreasureThe Warner House in Portsmouth is the earliest extant brick urban mansion in New England. The mural pictured above (photo 1) was discovered in 1854 under four layers of wallpaper. Though the artist of this painting is unknown, it is believed to have been applied around 1760. According to the Warner family history, it is said that a child descending the staircase saw a tear in the wallpaper and gave it a pull, accidentally revealing the horse’s hoof. Imagine the excitement of this discovery, like opening a time capsule.

Seacoast resident and designer Diane Kelley is the owner of DK Interiors.

Judy Dibble and Amanda Dibble

Brookwood Designs


(603) 520-4844

David B. Wiggins


(603) 267-1980

The Warner House

150 Daniel St.


(603) 436-5909

DK interiors

(603) 969-9054

Categories: Home & Garden