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The Yankee Express

Welcome to Webster

By Patty Roy

Dave Laabs is a local guy who has always been good with his hands. A 13 year veteran of Ethan Allen Furniture, he began his art career in the three dimensional sphere, crafting fine wood furniture. When the company began trimming its sawmill operations in 2003, Laabs was laid off .
That same year, the self-taught artist decided to open his own shop called The Airbrush Shack, at his home in Thompson Connecticut. Besides screen printed apparel, and lettering for signs and vehicles, Laabs is also a mural artist, having created many of the oversized paintings for restaurants, churches, homes and businesses.
His latest work is viewable from street side – 195 Thompson Road, Webster to be exact. Its subject is one that is close to Laabs’ heart – Webster Lake. Or, as the purists may prefer, Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg.
It is the longest geographic place name on record for the Department of the Interior and exists in other, abbreviated forms. 
The lake was a cherished part of Laabs’ childhood years spent at his grandparents’ home in Reid Smith Cove. 
“There were many seasons boating, fishing, ice skating,” he said, describing what sounds like a year-round idyll.
Laabs refers to the building the mural was painted on as his “48’ x 11’ canvas,” and covers the entire side of a shop owned by Amber and Wayne Stewart and where Amber operates The Water Lily, a small women’s boutique.
Amber approached Laabs with the idea of a mural (he had already completed one on another wall of the building), but said she couldn’t afford to pay him.
“That’s okay, I’ll do some fund raising,” was Laabs’s cheerful reply. Though he didn’t reach his fundraising goal, he got enough donations to enable him to start and complete the mural about two weeks ago, assisted by Scott Ciprari.
The mural depicts a “Welcome to Webster” sign along with the lake’s lengthy Eastern Algonquin name.
From left to right, the first illustration portrays folks enjoying a ride on a vintage wooden speedboat. The center portion of the mural is a giant map of the lake with points of interest, listing the three ponds that combine to create the lake and also shows its islands, shoals and coves. 
On the far right, is a tribute to the original Nipmuc inhabitants. Some small text lists John Eliot and Daniel Gookin who established the town of Chaubunagungamaug in 1674, site of the Praying Indian.
“This mural was a public art project involving many generous donors who all contributed in some way to funding the project,” said Laabs. “My intent was to help bring community together to bring some art to a very noticeable building for all who pass by not far from the Massachusetts-Connecticut line and welcoming all to Webster.”
The projected was funded by Amber and Wayne Stewart, Indian Ranch, Samuel Slater’s Restaurant, Webster Five Bank, Webster First Federal Credit Union, Lake Shore Legal, Webster Lake Gifts, Sandi Grzyb of Avenue Real Estate, Maureen Cimoch of Lake Realty, Hickey Fleet Service, Lakeview Marine, State Line Builders, Body by Tabitha, Crossfit Clean Slate, Doc Stop, Quinebaug Valley Broadcasting-WQVR 99.3, Glenn and Shelby Melia. There were also anonymous donors, Laab said.