SOMERVILLE, NJ - Artist Doug Hoekzema has traveled the world painting bigger-than-life murals on the facades of commercial buildings, hotels, resorts and convention centers, but none perhaps as heartfelt as the three-story mural that emerged over the past four days on the stucco wall of  Redelico's Paint and Decorating Center at 118 W. Main St.

Roseann Woods Brown, Chief of Staff to state Sen. Christopher “Kip” Bateman and her husband Raymond, retired Somerset County Parks director, stood on Main Street and watched each day as the mural took shape.

They would take turns fighting back the tears and painful memories as their son's friends, Hoekzema and Bhakti Baxter crafted the three-story swirl of shapes and colors on the stucco wall facing United Reformed Church.

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The Brown's son, Raymond W. Brown was working on a giant mural two years ago on Oct. 24 on the side of a high-rise building in Hollywood, Fla. when the scaffolding collapsed, with Brown and two others falling 40 feet. Brown perished; the other two survived, including Hoekzema, his good friend.

Brown, 32 when he died, was well-known in the Miami-area arts community and in addition to his art, was a gifted guitarist who performed at several venues in southern Florida.

Brown was born in Somerville and was a graduate of Bridgewater-Raritan High School. 

Hoekzema and Baxter began their work on the tribute to their late friend Tuesday afternoon, all the while thinking about their late friend and the second anniversary of the tragedy. 

Earlier this month the Borough Council approved an ordinance that will permit qualified artists to paint murals on the brick facades of buildings in the downtown retail district along Main Street.

The ordinance spells out the application and review process, and designates Arts on Division, a non-profit organization that oversees art and cultural events in the downtown district, as the agency that will oversee the review and approval process. AOD, headed by Verve Restaurant owner Rick St. Pierre,  is a non-profit 501C3 corporation, and is sponsor of the Brown mural project.

AOD must review and approve the project and pass the application to the Borough Council for final approval. 

A second mural project in memory of Jerome Gonzalez, a prolific artist and author who played a major role establishing the thriving arts community in Somerville, is awaiting the approval process.

He died at the age of 44  in February, 2018 competing in an endurance race in North Carolina.

Gonzalez, a talented graffiti artist who was equally adept working on canvas or paper, graduated Somerville High School in 1992.

His good friend, Shaun Daley, co-owner of the Gallery on Main at 30 West Main St., is coordinating the project with partner Michelle Kassick, with a GoFundMe page established to raise funds. The mural will be painted on the stucco facade of a building near Daley's gallery, alongside a walkway that leads to a municipal parking lot behind the Main Street buildings. One of the artists working on the project, Alejandro Medina, created a poster of Gonzalez which is being sold at the gallery, with all proceeds donated to the project.