NORTHAMPTON, Mass. (WWLP) – Thornes Marketplace in Northampton is becoming a canvas for a Florida artist who will paint a nature-inspired piece on the back side of the building.

Out of 87 applicants, Ernesto Maranje will begin his work at the end of September on the $20,000 project funded by a grant from the city of Northampton. It is expected to take about two weeks to install the art.

Maranje’s design features weaver birds and racoons, created by layers of smaller images of flora, fauna, and other creative touches. “Weaver birds have continuously been a symbol in my work. I imagine that they are the ones constructing my pieces, weaving together leaves, twigs, flowers to create the finished piece,” Maranje said. “The weaver birds are the composers of the design.”

Maranje is excited about how the back of the east exterior wall of Thornes is shaped, adjacent to the parking lot and the entrance to the parking garage. “I like that challenge,” he said. The finished mural will cover the whole back side of the building, from the parapet to the ground, including the space under the roof and the awning.

“Thornes is super excited by the project,” Jody Doele, marketing manager for Thornes said. “Northampton’s continued vibrancy and relevancy are important to all of us, especially at this point in its history. We believe public art adds enormous value to the cultural, aesthetic and economic vitality of a community.”

“I just think it’ll be bright and cheery and another addition to Northampton. Racoons are used to urban environments so it’ll fit right in,” said Jim Montgomery of Northampton.

“I’m a big believer in public art and the importance of it as it creates a community of culture. And so we’re really, really grateful and excited that we could provide this huge canvas” said Doele.

Doele says that Northampton’s downtown area faces economic and social challenges, and as a dominant retail store in the downtown, Thornes wants to help insert spirit and positive change. “Thornes remains committed to doing what it can to help Northampton thrive,” she said.

Maranje began exploring art as a hobby in 2012, while he was serving as a diesel mechanic in the U.S. Coastguard and was unfortunately injured. He was assigned to work on land, doing odd painting jobs, like painting the California flag on a pair of window shutters.

Maranje took art classes at the Art Institute of Miami before he was invited to take part in mural festivals in Europe and the Middle East. By 2018, he was being commissioned by companies and developers for paid artwork, and he launched his own company. His wife, Hilary Maranje, manages the business side of the operation.

“The inspiration comes from different avenues,” he said. He enjoys the hard work that comes with painting murals such as lifting, walking up stairs, and waking up early. “Another inspiration is seeing the final product, seeing the wall complete and being satisfied with completion. Inspiration for the subject matter comes from biology. I have a fondness for evolution and species. There are lots of animals and organic elements in my work.”