HUDSON: A typical motorist waiting for the light to change at Main and Clinton streets might have noticed a boarded-up door on the side brick wall of Hattie’s Cafe.
What Lucy Karslake saw was a canvas.
The door, hovering a couple of feet above a sidewalk ever since the steps were removed years ago, looked like a prime spot for a trompe l’oeil, a French term for a painting that creates a three-dimensional optical illusion.
“I’ve been traveling and seeing a lot of trompe l’oeil in Ohio and I saw that door and thought: That needs a painting,” Karslake said.
As president of the Hudson Society of Artists, she was in a position to do something about it.
Karslake approached the building owner, Harvey Hanna, for permission to do something special with the door, then coaxed her artist’s group into paying for the supplies.
But what to paint?
Karslake decided to ask a group of gentlemen who have been enjoying their morning coffee at the corner spot for years. They suggested James William Ellsworth, the town’s early benefactor.
Ellsworth, who made a fortune from coal and other businesses in the late 1800s and early 1900s, did everything from modernizing the town’s roads and utilities to reopening Western Reserve Academy, building the town square’s famed clock tower and helping to form the local library.
Next, Karslake approached Hudson’s architectural board for permission to paint the public mural.
“They approved it on condition that we talk to the town historian and ask what kind of pose [Ellsworth] should be,” she said.
With photographs of Ellsworth provided by local historian Tom Vince, Karslake and her co-artist, Paul Adams, settled on a distinguished Ellsworth with a cane and formal dress appropriate for a man of international renown.
The life-size portrait was not done on the door itself, however.
“I was not about to stand on a ladder all day and paint that,” Karslake laughed.
She and Adams painted Ellsworth on sign board that matched the dimensions of the door.
“It’s layered material and it’s not supposed to warp. Also, if anything happens to it, we can take it down and make corrections, or if someone wants something different, it can be removed,” she said.
There is one tiny issue that has nagged some pedestrians.
Because the steps below the door are gone, “people have said they’re afraid he’s going to fall out of the door,” Karslake said.
But preparing, painting and finishing brick is not as easy as it might seem, so Ellsworth will just have to mind his step.
Otherwise, Karslake said, she has received nothing but positive feedback about the trompe l’oeil, and the building owner “has hinted there are other merchants in town who want to have something like it.”