On Sunday, October 8, the Metuchen community will gather to formally dedicate "Seasons," a Community Mural four years in the making. Join us at 2 pm at the tennis courts at Grove and Oakland! The four sides of the old shed are now a remarkable, beautiful ceramic mural with tiles created by dozens upon dozens of families and members of the community. At the helm of this amazing work is beloved local ceramist Linda Vonderschmidt-La Stella of Earthsongs Ceramic Studio. We asked Linda about the process of putting this project together; the biggest surprises along the way; the memories she holds and what is in store in the future for this kind of art in Metuchen.
Q: What do you remember most about these past four years of working on the Community Mural?
A: The thing I remember the most is how the very first year I looked at the kids, and there were two-year-olds that I said, “Well, they’re going to be in school by the time this is finished.” Then I’d say, “How many are 12 years old?” And they would raise their hands and I’d say, “They’re going to be driving when this is finished.” That’s the thing about doing the work I do. It is a long-term process.
Q: How do you describe your work?
A: My work is really clay on walls. I am a ceramist but I am not a potter. I work primarily with sculpture and sculptural tiles, in murals. My actual work is doing that for corporate spaces, public spaces and residences. In addition to being a ceramist, I call myself an arts activist. I do believe the arts play such a powerful role in the community. The opportunity to do the community mural was something that brought that to fruition for me.
Q: How did the community mural idea come about?
A: It grew out of my longtime work with the Junebug ArtFest, where people wished art activities could continue past the festival. At first, we wanted to do something at the Metuchen Greenway, but Metuchen Recreation Director Nancy Goldberg said it was a county property. She then identified the storage shed at the tennis courts. I went over immediately thought of the idea of four seasons. I went home and did the four drawings for the four sides. I knew the idea of the seasons was something that would appeal to the broad community. It gave me a basis to do something that indicated that it was artist-led and yet still allowed each person complete freedom to create their tiles. It was a whole different way of working for me. The design approach took a tremendous amount of time to plan and preliminary work to ready the tiles.
Q: Why is this kind of community mural project so powerful and important?
A: It is really on the cusp of what public art is about today, which I’ve done a lot of research and reading on through my work with the Metuchen Downtown Alliance. Public art at its best is created by the people intended to be its audience. There are so many stories that have come out of each of the sides of the Community Mural. People tell me that their 3 or 4 year old wants to walk by every day and touch their tile. It really gives me chills, that is the power of it. There’s also the power of art on young people as they grow up in an environment like this. Lots of families really appreciate that. I’m hoping that the Community Mural becomes kind of an anchor for sort of an art park there by the tennis courts. Somebody has already said they want to donate a bench. The mural is also a real historical document about Metuchen. I saved tiles for myself to create, to incorporate a sense of how we celebrated that season together as a community. In summer, there’s Junebug, the classic car nights and time at the pool. There are impressions of probably every tree in Metuchen that I had people do in the fall. It’s just so rich with so many things, way beyond what I could have done as an individual.
Q: Are there any surprises now that the mural is finished?
A: Well, of course — I could only envision so much. Now that spring is up, making it complete, it really energizes the whole of it. That completion really makes every other side come to life. I must mention Rick Bienvenue and the other guys from the DPW. They have been amazing. Rick went above and beyond. He was the installer, he has that tiling skill. And they had to redo the roof.
Q: Are you planning any similar projects in the future?
A: I would love to certainly — but not on that scale. I don’t think it’s realistic to do that again. But I’m really interested in being a consultant to other towns. I’ve already done it for the Edison school district in service to their arts teacher about the process, and other towns have asked. In terms of other things here in Metuchen, I’d love to do them on a smaller scale, for, say, all the Girl Scouts in town. I could develop the design and do the glazing and they could do the actual sculpturing. I’d be open to that down the road. In a year or two.