PATERSON, NJ – Ken Wallo says he’s no artist. But with a paint brush in hand, the Wayne resident was part of the crew last weekend that began work on a grand-scale mural showcasing Paterson’s history and contributions to the world.
Wallo comes to Paterson to grab hot dogs at Libby’s Lunch at least once week. But Texas wieners aren’t what make Paterson his favorite place – it’s the city’s historic Great Falls.
“The Great Falls is like an oasis in an urban area – it’s so out of place,” said Wallo, who also is writing a novel involving the Great Falls. “I’d love to see this city get legs under it and move along.”
To Wallo, creating a piece of art that paid homage to Paterson and beautified the city was a step in that direction – which is why he was one of more than 25 painters at Overlook Park on Saturday afternoon.
The Ivanhoe Artists, a Paterson nonprofit group, came up with mural idea and the National Park Service gave its bless, providing all the art supplies. Christine Conforti, executive director of Ivanhoe Artists, said after Great Falls recently became a national park, it was important to keep up the positive momentum to turn Paterson around.
And the Ivanhoe group plans to do just that through art, like the current mural project that features a blend of famous Paterson imagery such as mills, an airplane and the Great Falls.
“You can’t come here without seeing the Falls. Paterson became the first industrial city all because of that,” said native South Patersonian Jim Reilly, pointing to the waterfall. “You can’t come here without seeing it – the history is incredible.”
Part of Paterson’s problem, Reilly said, is that people have a negative perception of the city. But, he asserted, that perception would change if people came to the park and saw the Falls, the mural and other types of art.
Not even the threat of dark clouds rolling in stopped the diverse crowd of adults and children from coming to paint the 30-by-15-foot canvas, which was outlined like a picture one might see in a coloring book. The sketch was divided into squares, which each participant was able to fill in.
The group had to paint on canvas and instead of on one of the walls because of national park restrictions, according to one of the artists, Ian Grinyer, of Haledon.
Grinyer, who is an art teacher in Paterson, sketched the mural in two weeks. For him it was not only important to highlight the history of Paterson, but to also include hope for the future.
“People need vision and hope. We need to share ideas and what can be done together,” said Grinyer. “Beautifying the city and bringing art into it will inspire people.”
Artist and product designer Rita Feigler, of Little Falls, echoed the same sentiments and came to participate in the project as soon as she found out about it through Conforti.
“It’s important to get artists together because changes in the city start with the artists,” said Feigler, who was later spotted mixing a can of orange paint.
Erik Lowe, chairman of the Paterson Municipal Utilities Authority, stopped by to show his support for the project, citing that “it was a great opportunity” for the artists as well as for the city.
“This is our city’s crowned jewel and we have to continue events like this to showcase our treasure,” said Lowe. Ever since the Great Falls became America’s 397th National Park last November, Lowe said he has seen an increase in visitors from countries all over the world, including Australia, Nigeria and France.
The band of artists finally had to call it quits around 5 pm due to the worsening weather conditions. They were not able to finish the mural and Conforti said they are seeking a space where it can be finished in up to two sessions. When a space is found, the Ivanhoe Artists will announce the location to the public.
The finished product will hang on the bridge near the S.U.M building on the side facing the Great Falls for one month. After that, it will be taken down, but will be put back on the bridge for celebrations and community events in the area.
Conforti said she hopes to complete the mural before the next big city wide event, which is usually a gathering for the holidays. Once the final paint stroke dries, Conforti said they will mark its unveiling with a celebration.