Walking in, I scan around and see mostly unfamiliar, but not unfriendly, faces. There’s Frank at the other side of the bar, he’s looking crusty and sour, but still has a nod for me as I pass through to the dining room. I’m alone, but used to that these days. I know I’m welcome here. In that space, I continue my search for the tall, hairy fellow I am supposed to meet. We are looking to talk about the future, and what we can do with it. But, he’s nowhere to be found. Instead I see a trio of acquaintances. They’ve come to talk about the future, too. It seems we all have that on our minds these days. How to shape it. How to make it better. I sit with them and get drawn into their conversation about an opportunity to work together to bring ideas to fruition. Well, the hairy man never arrived, but in the end, I think that was the meeting I was meant to have.
Several more trips to worn leather couches with a rotating crew of perspectives led to the conception of the Trenton Art Puzzle. “We need something to bring people together,” we said. “We need to activate our city spaces in a way that makes people feel safe.” “We need to feel that we are a part of a bigger whole.” “We need to recognize the assets that we have and to celebrate and develop them.”
Bruce had joined me at this point. He was enamored by the shape of Trenton and saw its potential as an icon. And so, the idea of the Trenton Art Puzzle was born.
It took many rounds of proposals to realize it, but finally, the #IamTrenton Foundation and Isles, Inc. came through with grant support. A stipulation was that the project must take place primarily in the Old Trenton Neighborhood, an area that encompasses roughly nine square blocks of the city from Route 1 to Broad Street and Perry Street to East State Street and is designated as a new arts district.
In the Trenton Art Puzzle, each participant gets their own wooden puzzle piece to paint. Is it really theirs, they wonder? Well, yes, they will get to keep it when the project is all said and done. But until then, it belongs to the whole and Bruce and I are its stewards.
Each puzzle piece is a 2 foot square with the outline of Trenton routed out in the middle. On it, the painter can share their connection to the neighborhood. The people, the landmarks, the memories, and the vision. It could be abstract, it could be an actual time and place. Ultimately, what they paint doesn’t matter as much as personal reflection, the act of painting, and being a part of something big.
My connection to the Old Trenton Neighborhood stems from the Windows of Soul project by SAGE Coalition. I had been a part of Windows of Soul since its inception on E. Hanover St. by providing large scale reproductions of my original artwork for wheat-pasting on the the boarded up windows. In 2014, the location was several buildings on Stockton St. and my contribution was a detail from a painting I had done of the Peruvian singer Yma Sumac, who had an extraordinary voice that could reach over 4 octaves.
So far during the Trenton Art Puzzle, we have spent two, hot afternoons being a part of the pageantry of a city that is down on its luck but hasn’t given up. Many passersby stopped to ask us what we were doing, asked how they can be a part of it, and reminisced about their own experiences. I even got a salsa lesson.
Here are a few photos of those days:
From October 5 – 26, 2018 the pieces – hopefully 200 of them – will be exhibited at the BSB Gallery where everyone is invited to see how their puzzle piece fits into a massive installation that should cover most of the floor. Visitors will be able to mix and match the pieces.
Before then, we have more paint sessions planned where anyone can come paint:
Tuesday August 7 from 4 – 8 pm
As part of a National Night Out party sponsored by Isles, Inc.
Located on Wood St (between Montgomery and Stockton Streets) Trenton
Tuesday Sept 18 from 2 – 6 pm
At the Orchid House
134 E. Hanover St, Trenton
Grand Opening Reception at the BSB Gallery
143 E. State St., Trenton
Friday, October 5 from 4 – 7 pm