RARITAN, NJ - They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and that certainly is true of the mural being commissioned by the Raritan Historic and Cultural Committee.
Two local artists – Tara Mastromihalis, of Bridgewater, and Jen Guarino, originally from Raritan – are working on creating a pictorial glimpse into the past on the front of the Mangia Buono Caterers building on West Somerset Street.
The idea for the project originated in May 2018 when the seven-member Historic and Cultural Committee applied for a $15,000 grant from the Regional Center of Creative Place Making of Somerset County. The concept of a mural was presented by Jim Fidacaro, the Committee Chairman.
After brainstorming with the entire committee, three goals were identified.
The planned projects were to wrap at least 10 benches in the downtown area in vinyl printed from photos submitted by local artists; add three new “Welcome to Historic Raritan” signs at entry points around town; and, paint a mural on a downtown building. The committee agreed on the ideas and goals, and then Angela Knowles, an engineer in town, wrote the grant application.
A few months after the final draft of the grant was submitted, the committee was notified that they won the grant and the creative work began. To date the benches are done, three residents have agreed to put the welcome signs on their properties and things are being finalized by attorneys.
The next step was finding the right location for the mural.
“It actually came together fairly easily,” said Fidacaro, “Bob McGinley and I met with the owner of Mangia Buono, showed him the drawing design and he agreed.”
The design that the committee decided on features the borough logo in one corner and the committee’s logo in another. In the center, four historic pictures will be featured.
The first is a depiction of Veterans Memorial Park and the second is the statue of John Basilione.
The third is the Raritan Woolen Mills, which supplied blankets for soldiers in World War I and World War II.
The fourth is the signing of the Knox-Porter Resolution that ended World War I. At the time, President Warren G. Harding was in Raritan, playing golf with his friend, Peter Frelinghuysen III.
If the weather cooperates, Guarino and Mastromihalis say the painting should be completed by Thanksgiving.
Since it’s inception in 2010, the Historic and Cultural Committee has been actively working to preserve and share the rich history of Raritan by providing a visitor-friendly and lively environment on Somerset Street with the objective of increasing awareness of the downtown businesses.
“We've also incorporated an appreciation of art into our endeavors,” Fidacaro said.
Over the past nine years, the committee has completed numerous projects, including the installation of the monuments at Veteran’s Memorial Park and the Washington School; designing and placing pole banners honoring Raritan’s fallen heroes along Somerset Street; creating photo postcards of historic sites and distributing them to downtown businesses; and publishing two award-winning tour guide booklets.
"One features the history of the western part of town and the other is of the eastern side," Fidacaro said. "They’re selling well at the library."
In the warmer weather, the committee successfully scheduled walking tours using the guide books.
Working on the Historic and Cultural Committee is a labor of love for Fidacaro. A 50-year borough resident, the former teacher, coach and administrator has a historical connection to Raritan, as his grandparents were the first couple to be married at the old wooden St.Ann Church in 1906.