Students create public art for Montclair

Thanks to the creativity and hard work of students and faculty from Montclair State’s Department of Art and Design, the township of Montclair dedicated its seventh piece of public art on Sept. 25.

The outdoor 8-foot-by-35-foot mural was installed in the space between the Bamboo Asian Bistro and the Montclair Char Broil Diner on the 600 block of Valley Road in Montclair. The work was a collaborative project involving the University, the Montclair Arts Council, the Montclair Parking Authority, the Upper Montclair Business District, and several local businesses and individuals.

Dale Jacobs, a member of the Montclair Arts Council as well as the Montclair State University Community Advisory Board, came up with the idea for the mural. “It’s a great example of what can happen with institutional cooperation and some individual perseverance,” he said. “There were many unknown obstacles as we started this project, but now we have plenty of experience and hopefully the will and consensus to do more public mural art in Montclair.”
 
The mural is a visual sampling of some of Montclair’s historical events and characters, including conflicts between the Lenni Lenape Indians with the European settlers; Israel 'King' Crane, the merchant credited with the development of the area; and the impact of renowned landscape artist George Inness, who was from the Hudson River School.

Five undergraduate and five graduate art and design students—under the leadership of Julie Heffernan, associate professor of art and design, and adjunct instructor Zachary Wollard—worked on the acrylic-on-canvas mural. They are undergraduates Melissa Graff of Montclair, Kyle Coniglio of Wayne, Andrew Fondanarosa of River Edge, Alfred Marroquin of Newark, and Daniela Puliti of Garfield; and graduate students Gianluca Bianchino of Little Falls, Gavin Gewecke of Lyndhurst, Saydi Kaufman of Bloomfield, Ji Yong Kim of Bloomfield, and Sarah Zar.

According to Heffernan, the project was not only a creative experience for the students, but also an educational one. “I think the process of learning how to think collaboratively was a challenge for some students in the beginning,” she said. “But it taught them a lot about public art and thinking in terms of a wide, diverse audience, and about how to work with others. The esprit de corps among the group helped the project come to a rousing finish.”

Much of the success of the project can be attributed to the many township organizations, businesses, and individuals who arranged for much needed private funding, advice, materials, and assistance. “If it was just getting a mural painted, that would have been a far simpler task,” Jacobs said. “But putting the mural on a frame that meets all building codes and mounting it on an outside wall in a historical business district added a great deal of complexity.”

Jacobs recognized Vanik Property Corp, which owns the building; architect John Way, who designed the frame; Bill Staehle, owner of Classics Reborn, LLC, who helped build and stall the frame; Ton Vultee of Saunders Hardware, which donated art supplies; the Bob and Bobby Constable and the Jacobs Family Foundation, which provided funding for the project; and Ira Smith, chair of Montclair Historical Preservation Commission, who spoke with the students about the role of historical preservation and public art.