The big picture: Seeing Eye mural brings 90 years into focus

Scene from Seeing Eye mural by Caren Frost Olmsted. Photo by Marion Filler
Scene from Seeing Eye mural by Caren Frost Olmsted. Photo by Marion Filler
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By Marion Filler

There is a lot to celebrate as The Seeing Eye turns 90 this year.

More than 17,000 remarkable partnerships between guide dogs and people have been forged since the organization began in 1929.

Dedicated trainers have been walking their charges on the streets of Morristown without fail, rain or shine, for as long as most people can remember.

Now, another labor of love has memorialized these life-changing relationships. A stunning mural dedicated this week at the Seeing Eye Headquarters in Morris Township celebrates the transformation of an ordinary puppy into an extraordinary guide dog.

“It was painted by everyone,” inspired by all who have been part of The Seeing Eye story, said Seeing Eye President & CEO Jim Kutsch.

He gave special thanks to Caren Frost Olmsted, “our artist who came up with the concept, put it to paper, and actually put it to walls, in the end.”

Video by Marion Filler for MorristownGreen.com:

A video of the installation, narrated by Olmsted, soon will be posted on The Seeing Eye website.

Olmsted, a professional muralist from Basking Ridge, intended to document the life of the dogs, beginning with families who bring puppies into their homes to socialize them.

GRADUATION DAY: Seeing Eye dogs successfully navigate New York City. Mural by Caren Frost Olmsted. Photo by Marion Filler.
GRADUATION DAY: Seeing Eye dogs successfully navigate New York City. Mural by Caren Frost Olmsted. Photo by Marion Filler.

The next segment depicts training sessions that include familiar sights in Morristown.

On the opposite wall is a joyful scene of trainers and students meeting their dogs and, finally, a scene in New York City, where the dogs “graduate and go out in the world.”

A small alcove pays tribute to Dorothy Harrison Eustis, an American trainer of dogs in Switzerland, who worked with Morris Frank, a blind 20-year-old from Tennessee, to bring the first guide dog to the United States.

Although the project took approximately six months from original concept to the finished product, the actual painting only took about a month, said Olmsted.

Caren Frost Olmsted mural depicting Swiss scene with Dorothy Harrison Eustis, a key figure in The Seeing Eye story. Photo by Marion Filler
Caren Frost Olmsted mural depicting Swiss scene with Dorothy Harrison Eustis, a key figure in The Seeing Eye story. Photo by Marion Filler

“I paint in the blocks and I go over it and fill in the highlights, shadows and details,” she explained, adding it takes many people to do something this size. She had plenty of help.

In addition to Seeing Eye volunteers, she was assisted by students from the Randolph Middle School and employees of the Benjamin Moore paint company, headquartered in Montvale, which provided paint for the project.

Yes, unlike most murals, this one used plain old house paint.

A new mural by Caren Frost Olmsted depicts The Seeing Eye story. Photo by Marion Filler
A new mural by Caren Frost Olmsted depicts The Seeing Eye story. Photo by Marion Filler

“If you think about it, what this demonstrates is that you can get the same quality and long lasting characteristics from our paint,” said Keri Fleming, senior vice president of human resources at Benjamin Moore.

“It was designed to be applied to walls and it has staying power.”

According to Fleming, the artists used water-based paint — pints for small areas and gallons for large expanses. The huge array of color in the Benjamin Moore fan deck made it easy to find just the right shade.

“The idea of having a mural first came about because we heard that Randolph Middle School was doing a mural with Caren,” said Seeing Eye spokeswoman Michelle Barlak.

“Seeing Eye puppies were featured in the mural because a faculty member was raising a pup and got permission from the school board to bring it to school with them.”

A new mural by Caren Frost Olmsted shows Seeing Eye dogs training around Morristown. Photo by Marion Filler
A new mural by Caren Frost Olmsted shows Seeing Eye dogs training around Morristown. Photo by Marion Filler

As the 90th anniversary approached, “we were trying to think of ways that we could make it special. Then everything came together. Morris Arts provided us with a grant, Randolph Middle School did a fundraiser, and Benjamin Moore donated the paint,” Barlak said.

Visitors are welcome at The Seeing Eye. Public programs every Thursday, and once a month on Saturdays, run from 10 a.m. to about 11:45 a.m. Reservations are required. While there is no fee to visit, donations are greatly appreciated.

To book a tour, call (973) 539-4425 extension 1775 or email here.

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