The Artist Behind the Murals at Save the Bay’s Hamilton Family Aquarium

Portsmouth-based Amy Bartlett Wright paints, rolls, and delivers expansive backdrops


For the past two years, Amy Bartlett Wright has been busy painting murals on canvas for Save the Bay’s Hamilton Family Aquarium in Newport. Among them is “Rocky Shore,” a 9x18-foot depiction of Sachuest Point in Middletown that serves as backdrop for live exhibits as you enter the aquarium. There’s also “Freshwater Habitats,” a 28-foot-wide canvas painted at Wright’s Portsmouth studio. Once completed, Wright rolls each canvas on a PVC pipe and delivers them in her car to the aquarium. She’s currently working on her first magnetic mural for the destination, a first for the artist in her 40 years of work. “This interactive exhibit combines a painted underwater landscape and separate magnetic painted sculptures of our native marine life,” the artist explains.

In the vivid world of Wright, each stroke is an ode to the wildlife, landscapes, and communities that define Rhode Island. The muralist and natural science illustrator’s artistic passage traces back to the nurturing influence of her grandmother, whose playful challenges and innate teacher-like qualities ignited a passion for drawing. “When we were very young, my sisters and I lived next door to my grandmother’s house and we were frequently in her care,” Wright reminisces. “To keep us busy, she would lay out sheets of paper and tell us to draw an animal for every letter of the alphabet. Of course she loved everything we drew, so from a young age, I felt rewarded and encouraged to draw.” Childhood books were another influence and she cites Scribner Illustrated Classics, produced during the Golden Age of American illustration, as an inspiration.

Calling Rhode Island home for over four decades, Wright, who is part of the RISD Continuing Education faculty, attributes the state’s diverse habitats and wildlife as a logical nest for her creativity. “Rhode Island has such a variety of birds, mammals, and marine life. Because of our varied habitats – sandy beaches, fresh and saltwater waterways, woods, farmland, and rocky hills – there are areas to explore and capture through art.”

Mural painting came about naturally through clients and competitive art opportunities that challenged Wright to work larger and larger. Her largest mural to date is 57 feet on Washington Street in Providence; her widest is 260 feet for a private residence in Massachusetts. The process of choosing mural locations is often a collaborative endeavor initiated by building owners or representatives. While most of her murals are around New England, her portfolio includes 12 states.

Working large-scale presents logistical challenges that Wright navigates meticulously. “Mural painting requires a lot of planning,” she elaborates. “All my murals begin with a small-scale model.” Her preferred medium, acrylic paint, offers the stability and fast-drying qualities necessary for executing expansive artworks. The public spectacle of mural creation, where passersby become witnesses to her evolving masterpiece, adds another layer of excitement.

Wright’s artistic evolution reflects a shift from the precise drawing from her days as an illustration intern at the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonians in the Departments of Botany and Entomology, to today’s sublime mural expanses and plein air painting in oils. “My style has changed a lot over the years as my artistic priorities have changed,” she says. “My current work is looser and more expressive. I now consider detail as less important, and I prioritize volume and dimension.” Solo show Pathways, Waterways at The Graham Gallery, Bristol, August 1-September 7. Learn more at and follow her artistic practice on Instagram @amybartlettwright



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