PAWTUCKET — A business based on “junk” can really be a beautiful thing. Just drive down Front Street and witness the colorful mural being created on the side of a Berger Recycling warehouse by artist Fisiha Likke.
In painstaking detail, Likke, a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design and an art instructor, is rendering in acrylic paint the process that Berger Recycling uses to turn scrap metal, electronics, paper products and other “junk” into materials usable by other manufacturers onto a 100-feet long and 15-feet-high mural. As well as a recycling theme, the mural also pays homage to the company's longtime Pawtucket roots by weaving in local landmarks such as Slater Mill, Pawtucket City Hall and the Modern Diner.
Sam Sinel, who owns Berger Recycling with his brother, Charlie, said the mural was commissioned by the company as part of the celebration of its founding almost 100 years ago. “They want to put a bike path in the area and they just fixed up that park across the street (the PFC Kyle J. Coutu Memorial Field) so we decided we would do something to make our property a little nicer,” Sinel stated. “We've been part of this community since 1912.”
Sinel added that the business, located at 126 Front St., received a $1,000 grant from the city's Pawtucket Arts Funding program that is being used to help defray the costs of the mural. The company has also recently installed new fencing and shrubs to spruce up the three-acre site located in an industrial area near Tolman High School.
The mural artist, Fisiha Likke, began the project in June. Using sketches and photographs for reference, he drew a design that flows from the history of Berger Recycling—including founding family members and some current employees—to the recycling process. The images depict the scrap as it comes to the loading dock and goes through the sorting and recycling steps and then to the point when the material is shipped off for new uses. He has cleverly worked in the recycling logo and local landmarks as a backdrop. There is even a depiction of the company's “yard dog,” a Boston Terrier/Siberian Husky mix named Noah.
Likke, a native of Ethiopia now living in Providence, said he has done several other large-scale murals, including at Hasbro Children's Hospital, New England Medical Center, and at a medical facility in Hong Kong. He draws the outlines of the design in charcoal pencil and then uses acrylic paint that is formulated for exterior use for the painting itself. He said that in designing the mural, he drew on the inspiration of such artists as Diego Rivera and Eischer. “I tried to encompass the whole energy that flows from recycling,” he stated. “The idea of positive and negative and the transition from one thing to another.”
“The people who pass by have told me that they really appreciate it,” said Likke. “Several have said that they think it is beautifying the point of view and has changed the neighborhood.” He added that many have expressed concerns about the mural, which will be coated with varnish when completed to protect it from vandalism and graffiti. “Everyone is actually worried for it,” he said.
For the Sinel brothers, a business that their grandfather, Hyman Berger, began in 1912 by collecting and reselling scrap metal, used paper and rags using a horse and cart has grown into a successful company that sells domestically and abroad. “What used to be considered the junk business is now the recycling business,” noted Sam Sinel. He said that “recycling” didn't become a buzzword until about the time of President Lyndon B. Johnson's administration and when the importance of environmental protection came into focus.
“Recycling is actually an ancient business,” continued Sinal. “Benjamin Franklin recycled paper and Paul Revere melted down metal to make new metal. Just the equipment has changed.”
Today's equipment allows for the deconstruction and recycling of a variety of products and the raw materials are then marketed to paper mills, metal smelters and other industrial customers. Berger Recycling specializes in scrap metal, waste paper, electronics, plastics, batteries, textiles, insulated wire and new paper rolls. The company also offers product destruction for recalled items and does document shredding. They provide services for customers throughout the U.S. and throughout the globe in places like China, India, Japan, Korea, and South America.
Berger Recycling is now into its fourth generation. Sinel said that after his parents married and his father returned from the war, his father, Abe Sinel, took over the operation that his maternal grandfather had started. When Sinel's father died unexpectedly of a heart attack in 1958, his mother, Edith, ran the business herself for about a decade until the couple's sons finished college.
“My mother had graduated in 1932 from Pembroke College and after my father suffered a heart attack in 1956, she came in to help out in the office,” said Sinel. “So, when my father passed away two years later, she had a couple of years under her belt. She ran the junk yard business because she was convinced that there was a future in it for her sons.” In recent years, the torch has been passed to another family member, Charlie Sinel's son, Adam, who has joined the business as general manager.
This year, Berger Recycling was awarded the 2011 Jeffrey Butland Family Business of the Year award for the Rhode Island and New England district from the U.S. Small Business Administration. While the business has flourished, Sinel noted that the loss of many local and domestic manufacturers to places overseas has made it more difficult to obtain scrap materials. “This is a very competitive business. We have to be aggressive to get the scrap,” Sinel noted. Yet, as the commissioning of the mural shows, Berger Recycling is here to stay and is also trying to make its corner of the city a little more attractive.