Art transforms mundane Metuchen building

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BY KATHY CHANG
Staff Writer

METUCHEN — Once a mundane eyesore, the façade of a cement storage building at the tennis courts has transformed into all four seasons through ceramic clay.

The Metuchen Arts Council is currently accepting applications for Phase 3 of the public art project, “Mudmaking Madness,” the ceramic mural that will eventually cover the entire exterior of the block storage building between the Grove Avenue tennis courts.

With “The Seasons” as the theme, each side of the building, which is 11 feet by 8 feet, will reflect life in Metuchen during that season of the year.

While the overall abstract design will be developed by ceramic artist Linda Vonderschmidt-LaStella, “Winter” will be composed of irregularly shaped 12-by-12-inch clay tiles.

Vonderschmidt-LaStella said the project started out as an idea in 2010 and 2011.

“We were trying to find ways to extend the Junebug Artfest where the community could continue to come together in a shared creative activity throughout the summer,” she said.

During that time, a suggestion was made to create ceramic tiles for the entry ways of the Middlesex County Greenway in Metuchen.

“It was right around the time that the greenway had opened, and we needed county approval,” said Vonderschmidt-LaStella. She added the project idea eventually fell through.

Then Nancy Goldberg, director of the Metuchen Recreation Department, suggested a project for the number of “not too pretty” borough-owned buildings, including the storage building.

Vonderschmidt-LaStella said the suggestion was exciting. She said she did note that because of the scale of the project, it would be a four-year process, which began two years ago with summer and then autumn last year and now winter. In 2017, the project will be completed with spring.

She said when thinking about what to do for the project, she thought about the 1950s “Howdy Doody” show, which portrayed Native American Princess Summerfall Winterspring.

“I’ve always loved that,” she said adding that Metuchen is named after Native American Chief Matouchin.

Anyone who wishes to get “hands in clay” can register and select one of the six two-hour learn/create sessions scheduled for each weekend in March at the Metuchen Senior Center, 15 Center St. Each tile is $25, and participants can sculpt an original design for their tile.

Each completed tile will become part of the permanent mural.

Vonderschmidt-LaStella said the project has brought out over 200 people, from families with children to senior citizens. She said it is also open to people outside of Metuchen.

“Some have started in the utero,” she said explaining pregnant mothers have participated. “Kids have brought their toys, some people have brought kitchen utensils, and some people have brought their own drawings making for an interesting and unique piece [of the mural].”

Vonderschmidt-LaStella said the clay making has also been a fun activity after the mother-son and daddy-daughter events in the borough.

She said people are free to do whatever they want with their piece and can put their name on it.

Vonderschmidt-LaStella said this year she has three student interns from Metuchen High School helping her out with the project.

“I hope this will bring out more high school students,” she said. “We have had some, but we hope to have more of their energetic creativity.”

Vonderschmidt-LaStella said after people are finished with their piece, the drying and wrapping process begins. The design of the mural is laid out in April and May and then she spends July and August firing the pieces in her kiln, wrapping the pieces and glazing them.

“I lay the pieces out on my driveway,” she said.

By mid-September and early October, the pieces are placed onto the wall of the storage building.

Vonderschmidt-LaStella said Rick Bienvenue, of the Department of Public Works, has been supportive of the project. She said he makes sure the side of the wall is ready for installation and then he installs the pieces on the wall.

“Rick also prepared the building for the project with redoing the roof,” she said.

Vonderschmidt-LaStella said there are large sweeps of color throughout the two seasons completed already from the green and yellows of summer and the blue sky and red leaves of autumn.

For the project, the borough is receiving an Excellence in Programming Award from the New Jersey Recreation and Park Association’s Awards on March 1 in Atlantic City.

Goldberg said the project has been a great community arts project involving people of all ages.

Registration forms for the clay-making sessions are available by calling Metuchen Recreation at 732-632-8502, stopping by the office at 500 Main St. or visiting www.metuchennj.org.