Healing through art

Mural of Gabby Petito touches community

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Taking up the bonus of creating a healing start point for a community is a feat for only the most empathetic of artists.

It is a task that famed South Shore muralist, Tess Parker, took on with dignity, strength, and genuflection to the family of slain Blue Point woman, Gabby Petito.

Parker’s work is featured in buildings and homes all throughout Suffolk County, with her first piece of note being the Oakdale mural on the Idle Hour Deli.

For that piece, she worked alongside the Oakdale Historical Society who commissioned her to capture the natural and structural beauty of the community.

For her latest work, the Gabby Petito mural in Blue Point, Parker made sure the Schmidt and Petito families and BBP as a whole were kept in mind in the celebratory rendering of Gabby.

During the near two-week process of painting and sealing the mural (Parker had originally thought she would be working eight-to-nine-hour days for five to six days only and did not anticipate the community outreach that would occur while she was painting), Parker’s dog, a Shiba Inu named Okami, stayed with her and often took naps on the small grass patch in front of the mural wall.

Parker, from East Islip, who has dealt with her own local tragedies as her childhood sweetheart died in a horrific police accident, made sure that Petito’s family was supportive of the artwork.

“I contacted Nichole [Schmidt, Gabby Petito’s mother] and left a message offering her my gratis services as an artist to make a mural in honor of her daughter and said to get back to me in her own time, be it five, 10 years from now,” said Parker.

The family returned her call and expressed support for Parker’s vision and chose the emblematic “angel’s wings” photo of Gabby for the mural.

Parker, from an artistic perspective, was curious and enthusiastic about rendering the angel’s wings in her own specific style, which she describes as “for the painterly artist,” where brushstrokes and expression outweigh rigid realism.

The entire mural is done in this style except for Gabby’s face, which Parker said is the most realistic painting she has ever done, and Parker’s rendition of Gabby’s artwork, spread throughout the feathers of the angel’s wings.

A gifted artist in her own right, Parker said she loved the “meditative quality” of Gabby’s artwork, which included mandala-type illustrations.

“Mandalas are known to be meditative and calming,” said Parker, adding, “from Gabby’s artwork, I could see she had good self-control and had found a therapeutic outlet in her art.”

Parker, who is a creative arts therapist and knowledgeable on the teachings of Carl Jung, said mandalas in art therapy are used to symbolize wholeness.

Gabby’s illustration of a logo had actually been chosen by the Great South Bay Coalition, a local, Blue Point activist group that raises awareness and provides resources for those afflicted with addiction.

Working with domestic violence victims in her field, Parker said that her background made her specifically qualified to handle a mural of this emotional scope because she could speak with people grappling with grief and anxiety about the circumstances of Gabby’s death.

Patricia Blair, who is also from East Islip, and has been a lawyer and small-business owner in Blue Point for the past 17 years, donated the wall for the mural. Her law firm occupies the west of the building, while the mural is located on the east side of the building.

“This is an incredible thing for the community,” said Blair. “We are paying respect to Gabby, to her memory, and what a remarkable young woman she was.”

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