NEW LONDON -- Yehuda Amar saw Frankie Galasso's illustrations and caricatures hanging in the Twin River Casino in Lincoln, R.I., and thought Galasso could be a cheerleader for New London.
So Amar, who is developing property at 147-153 Bank St. into retail shops and luxury apartments, invited the illustrator and syndicated sports and editorial cartoonist to visit New London and see if there might be enough fodder for a new project here.
That was in July, and ever since Galasso has been making weekly trips to the city from his home in Cranston, R.I.
"I really like New London," Galasso said. "I like the people; I'm starting to know them as friends. And it is so beautiful. I'm actually disappointed when I can't come down."
His latest work in progress is a lithograph celebrating New London as the state's only Coast Guard City.
The finished product will be a poster-size work featuring landmarks like the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, the New London lighthouses, Soldiers & Sailors Monument and colorful sketches of local businesses whose owners have bought into the project.
Shortly after his first visit to New London, Galasso was introduced to Tammy Daugherty, director of the city's office of development and planning.
Daugherty's office endorsed the project and invested seed money, and local businesses followed.
Now Galasso is about halfway done with the lithograph that will be similar to others that he has done for the states of Rhode Island and New Hampshire, the Federal Hill section of Providence, and the city of Newport, R.I.
He's also done them for sports figures like Derek Jeter and major league teams like the Red Sox and Bruins.
They're mixed media images or renderings of the celebrities, teams, landmarks or businesses -- water colors, ink pens, colored pencils -- "whatever I can get my hands on," Galasso explains, and include a brief description or historical notation with each image.
Rod Cornish, the owner of Hot Rod Cafe at 114 Bank St., has signed onto the project. (Participating businesses pay $350 and receive 20 signed prints and two custom, commemorative mugs.)
"Anything that is positive about New London, I'm all about it," said Cornish, who added that Amar is "a shrewd businessman who cares about the community" and said if he thinks the lithograph is a good idea than it's likely a wise investment.
"I've been here 10 years (on Bank Street), and it's nice to be part of something that is permanent," Cornish said. "I want to be part of the whole resurgence of the area ... And I like to support the arts."
Another business owner, Suzanne Berkman of the New London Antiques Center at 123 Bank St., said eventually she would like to see this project, or another, develop into a downtown business map.
She's run her 27,000-square-foot, three-story store selling used furniture, vinyl records, books, clothing and other items for 20 years, and considers her business an institution in the city.
She's in the process of installing a vintage lunch counter to serve coffee and ice cream, and said many of her customers come from outside the city, or by ferry.
"I just wanted to be part of it," she said of the lithograph.
Galasso said he expects to finish the lithograph by the end of November, but that there is still time and space to add more landmarks and businesses.
Daugherty said the project will promote New London as the state's Coast Guard city and be a keepsake for those who get one of the finished posters.
Other lithographs that he's done are sold on his website to places "all over the world," he said.
Galasso, who said he's "been drawing since I was a baby," studied art and music at the Community College of Rhode Island, and has worked as an editorial and sports cartoonist through his syndicate, which has sold his work to major newspapers around the country.
But with a decline is newspapers, he expanded to do the lithographs in the late 1990s, and the business has grown.
It was happenstance that Galasso and Amar met, said Galasso. But when Amar introduced Galasso to New London, it was both a business and personal opportunity.
"I really like this city," he said. "I think perhaps I may have a future studio in New London."