Stephen Parmenter married his wife Nina on a special, palindromic date: Nov. 11, 2011. Read another way: 11/11/11.
So as the couple’s 11th anniversary approaches, Parmenter knew his anniversary gift to his wife had to be special. Nina is originally from Vietnam, having grown up in the area near Ha Long Bay. The name Ha Long means “descending dragon” in Vietnamese, so that’s exactly what Parmenter decided to get her: a dragon.
The mythical beast is on the front of the house the couple owns in downtown in Easthampton at 117 Cottage St. A stunning mural painted right across the face of the property, the dragon’s purple spine and pink underbelly weave across the front door and around windows, standing out against a blue-green background and depictions of pink cherry blossoms. The dragon clings to a single bitcoin — a digital currency — in his claws.
Few, if any, private houses are painted that way in the city or region.
“My wife and I, we just love dragons, they’re cool,” Parmenter said. The couple haven’t been back to Ha Long Bay since before the COVID-19 pandemic began, and so it is as much a reminder of home as it is a radiant piece of public artwork.
Already, Easthampton residents and others who pass by have been marveling at the mural, the burst of color it brings to downtown and the decision to transform the previously ordinary building.
“It’s stunning to view in person,” one passer-by wrote on the city’s Facebook page. “This is just another reason we love our small city,” Parmenter’s neighbors across the street at Nini’s Italian Ristorante wrote on Facebook, calling the mural “amazing.”
Ryan Sarfati is the artist behind the mural. Sarfati goes by the artistic name Yanoe — pronounced “ya know” — and is well known for his large-scale public murals across the world. Those in Easthampton or who drive through the city are likely already familiar with at least one of his pieces: the portrait of Jerry Garcia painted on the side of the Liberty Cannabis building on Northampton Street.
“It’s cool to come back, it’s rare for me to ever visit a place twice,” Sarfati said.
But Parmenter caught Sarfati right between two bigger projects, and he was intrigued by the idea; he had never painted a house like that before.
“I don’t normally do smaller jobs like this any more, but he caught me at a window and I fit it into the schedule and I was already familiar with Easthampton,” Sarfati said.
And soon, the city of Easthampton was falling in love with Sarfati. He said that many people stopped to ask about the painting or make sure he was managing in the scorching heat wave. Some people even brought him breakfast and coffee as he worked. He described Easthampton as “homey” and “greener than most places I’ve visited in the United States.”
“Every time I’ve been here I’ve met some really cool people so it was exciting to come back and actually spend some time here,” he said.
Parmenter is glad that people have taken a liking to the building’s new look. He and Nina rent the home out, but obviously have a connection to Easthampton and wanted to contribute to the bigger community.
“Being in the cultural district for Easthampton, we needed some art, some color,” Parmenter said. He said that he intends to light up the mural at some point in the future, so that people can see it at night.
The one detail of the mural that has puzzled some on online forums is the Bitcoin in the dragon’s claws. Some have hailed such “cryptocurrencies” as an alternative to traditional fiat currencies, though some economists have called Bitcoin and other digital currencies economic bubbles waiting to burst. Others have raised concerns about the massive carbon footprint resulting from the creation of cryptocurrencies at a time of global environmental crisis.
Bitcoin “it is the culture of money in our future,” Parmenter said. He agreed with one online commenter that it represents a modern treasure for a modern dragon. He said he hopes the inclusion of Bitcoin will spark conversation in the community.
“To put up a little controversy and thought into something, I’m all about that,” he said.
Dusty Christensen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org