Beautifying Bloomfield – one overpass at a time

Photos by Jeff Bahr/ Mayor Raymond McCarthy (inset) of Bloomfield speaks at the debut of the mural on John F. Kennedy Drive.


By Jeff Bahr

How do you turn a utilitarian crossing into a colorful celebration of humankind? At first, such a Houdini stroke might seem impossible, but that would be to discount the uplifting effect that art can have on a nondescript surface sorely in need of adornment.
Such a thought came to Bloomfield’s Township Administrator Yoshi Menale as he drove beneath the bland pedestrian overpass that links the east side of John F. Kennedy Dr. (at the recently refurbished football stadium/skate-park complex) with Maple and Spruce Sts.
It wasn’t that there was anything inherently wrong with the drab gray concrete wall that supports the crossing, but it did stand in rather featureless contrast beside the newly spiffed-up recreation area.
After mentioning his improvement idea to Mayor McCarthy the two men hatched a plan. They agreed that the wall would lend itself nicely to a painted mural, as had other overpass walls in nearby towns that the mayor had observed, but that led to the obvious question: Who would do the work?
With that goal in mind, the Mayor’s Secretary, Rosemary Brown, sent an email to the Bloomfield College Department of Creative Art and Technology in search of volunteers. After receiving the request, Adjunct Art Professor Clark Stoeckley asked his students if they’d like to participate.  An enthusiastic nod from his charges set the Bloomfield Township Community Art Project into motion.
Now all that was needed was a theme for the mural and perhaps a few additional hands to help out the effort. After a consensus vote, the students settled on a grand celebration of mankind itself. The “Power of Diversity” was a choice that teacher Stoeckley immediately got onboard with. “The U.S. is a melting pot of many different ethnicities and religions,” explained the teacher, “so the idea was a worthy one.”
Next, an ad seeking additional artists was placed in a local newspaper. Bloomfield residents Matt Amato, Karen Bullock and Tyrique Hogue answered the call and the workforce was complete.
As Stoeckley and his group began the Herculean job of transforming the immense wall into a work of art, they hit a momentary snag. It came when a patrolling Bloomfield cop, unaware that the project had received an official commission, pulled over to check out the group of assumed “Graffiti artists.” After a few anxious moments and a requisite background check, he realized that the artists were friends, not foes, and they all shared in a hearty laugh.
The mural combines elements of nature with human diversity. A stout tree-trunk gives way to limbs sprouting hundreds of separate leaves. These in turn display national flags from around the world. A quick perusal by this flag-challenged correspondent uncovered banners from Sweden, Denmark, Israel, Romania, Ireland, Italy and scores of other nations that didn’t trigger recollection.  The work itself was accomplished with dozens of cans of spray paint and added to the wall via stencils and freehand strokes.
The cash outlay for materials was minimal, “a few hundred bucks at best,” according to the mayor. Most who see the wall in its new, eye-catching state will probably agree that it was money well spent.
“The fact that it (the project) was done by the students shows that we’re a community of great people,” added the mayor with a glint of pride in his eyes.
Future mural projects planned under the Bloomfield Township Community Art Project banner will include a railroad trestle in the Township’s North Center district, two G.S. Parkway underpasses at the South end of JFK Dr., and a few other crossings, according to the mayor.
Artists who participated in the mural project include:
Art Teacher Clark Stoeckley, Tyrique Hogue, Frankki Moriarty, Absatu Mustapha, Kirsy Vasquez, Valerie Bagalay, Tiffane Bowman, Karen Bullock and Matt Amato.

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