BELLEVILLE, NJ - A colorful mural that adorns Town Hall has been created by an artist who has come to Belleville from half a world away.
The “Belleville Strong” piece is big, bright and bold, and it’s a reminder of how much immigrants continue to contribute to the township and the nation.
As the United States celebrates Independence Day this weekend, it’s a time to pause and think about people like Athena Zhe, who bring their hopes, their dreams and, sometimes, their paintbrushes to their new home.
“She may be almost 5,000 miles away from her native Ukraine,” said Mayor Michael Melham, “but she has made Belleville her home. Her artwork has added a burst of color and beauty to the township.”
In addition to the “Belleville Strong” sign, Zhe has also used her pallet to beautify an everyday traffic control box on the corner of Jerolaman Street and Franklin Avenue.
The box is now covered with Belleville’s trademark cherry blossoms against a soft green backdrop.
In her year and a half living in Belleville, Zhe said, she has been inspired by the friendly people and the glorious cherry blossoms that appear every spring.
“I discovered the cherry blossoms by accident one day this spring,” she said. “I went for a drive and I was like, ‘Wow, I didn’t know I lived in such a beautiful place.’ This is the Cherry Blossom Capital of the World and the world should know about it.”
Zhe, who also teaches art and does commission work, approached Melham, looking for a way to donate her time and talent. She and Melham discussed ways she could show her pride in her new home through her art.
It didn’t take long for the residents of Belleville to get behind Zhe as she spent about three days painting the traffic control box. Many people would stop and tell her how much they liked her work.
On the third and final day, while she was on the sidewalk with paint and brushes, a nearby restaurant owner came out and gave her lunch as a gesture of gratitude.
“I’m so proud that town has put my work on display,” Zhe said. “I hope it can inspire others to make Belleville even more beautiful.”
To further her connection with Belleville residents, Zhe hosted a “Patriotic Painting in the Park,” a backdrop for the township’s Fourth of July activities over the weekend, which included “Yoga in the Park.”
“Her work has captured the spirit of the township and her pride in Belleville comes through with each brush stroke,” Melham said. “It is a tremendous gift as we celebrate our country’s freedom.”