WEST ORANGE, NJ — In collaboration with local artist Ryan Zorad, Main Street New Jersey and the European company SprayPrinter, which uses special technology to create murals that celebrate downtowns and local artists, the Downtown West Orange Alliance (DWOA) has turned the bare walls of two Main Street businesses into 40-foot works of art in the center of town.
The printed murals—located in the heart of downtown at 269 Main St. and directly across the street in the parking lot of Schneider's Hardware—were designed by West Orange resident Ryan Zorad and were printed on the walls last week with the use of a one-of-a-kind robot.
One mural features an iconic image of Thomas Edison surrounded by his inventions in the top half, while the bottom half creates the illusion of being inside Edison Labs. For the second mural, Zorad created a “then-and-now” image of Main Street by taking a vintage scene of the transportation once seen at West Orange’s Tory Corner and blending it with the New Jersey Transit (NJT) bus that is often seen at the intersection today.
“This picture is really going to provide a great representative view of transportation history in West Orange at a historic corner,” said town historian Joseph Fagan, who provided the 1920s postcard that was the inspiration behind the image. “It’s going to feature four modes of transportation that really all took place on Main Street in overlapping time frames: the automobile, the trolley, the bus and, of course, the horse and wagon. Horse-drawn wagons were a common site on Main Street until the 1940s.”
Megan Brill, DWOA executive director, said that while the two murals celebrate public art, they are also meant to be “an economic driver” for West Orange’s downtown by making the area as inviting as possible.
“People will come down now and really see [the businesses] and spend their money here, and that’s what we want them to do,” said Brill. “Having something more interesting for them helps us help the businesses, and that’s ultimately is everything that we do—everything that we do is to simulate the financial benefit to our business owners.”
During the big reveal on Thursday, Brill explained that West Orange will be one of only four Main Street communities to have these murals after being selected by Main Street NJ to take advantage of a special robot that was designed by the European company SprayPrinter.
Using the cutting-edge method of “spray paint printing,” inventor Mihkel Joala of Eastonia utilized a color printer “robot” that moved along guide cables that were temporally attached to the side of the two West Orange buildings. The printer robot used spray paint to create the two murals from the digital pictures provided by Zorad.
“All we needed was a good wall, a landlord that would be cooperative and a roof that we could get up on,” said Brill. “I shouldn’t be surprised, but when I need something, West Orange always rises up and does what they’re supposed to do. We’re very happy that we’ll be one of only four communities that has this.”
Brill was especially impressed that the company was able to complete these murals in West Orange, Summit and Metuchen in less than a week.
While standing in the parking lot of Schneider’s Hardware to witness the printing of the second mural, West Orange Township Council President Susan McCartney said she was “in awe” of what was occurring downtown.
“While we’re standing here in a parking lot, this artwork is appearing right before our eyes,” said McCartney. “I am in awe. The equipment itself, the digital robot, it’s not sophisticated looking in any way, but the effect is so amazing. It’s not sophisticated, it’s not a science; it’s just something that [Joala] and his partner invented.”
Fagan and Mike Brick of the DWOA were both on hand during the printing to explain the rich history of Main Street, which Fagan said is “probably one of the longest Main Streets in the world.”
Once known as Valley Road, the West Orange Main Street Corridor was the first route out Newark and into the three Oranges, which were all originally part of Newark in 1666, according to Fagan. He said that it wasn’t until 1926 that the name was changed to Main Street in order to create one continuous route through all of the Oranges.
Fagan also explained how the mural depicts “a throwback to the trolley days.”
“Where we’re standing today is the parking lot for Schneider Hardware, but in 1892, this was a hotel that was built in the 1870s,” he said. “The trolley from Newark first reached West Orange at this point in February of 1892, and a few months later the line was extended to the end of Main Street (or Valley Road as it was known at the time). The trolley route was the 21 route—you’ll see old pictures of trollies that have 21 on them—and that corresponds with the NJT route, which is 21.”
The 1920s street scene shows the intersection of Main Street and Washington Avenue looking south, Brick explained. The buildings on the left and right are recognizable, while the street scene shows early automobiles as well as the Becker Dairy Farm horse, wagon and deliveryman.
According to Brick, the electric trolley was developed in part by Edison Industries and ran on tracks along Main Street during this time.
“Edison was instrumental in the electric trains, and the trolley ran up and down Main Street, so we put a trolley in as representative of the scene in the 20s,” he said of the mural scene, which shows the electric trolley disappearing into a “time warp” and emerging as a 2018 NJT bus. “We thought that would be fun for everybody to see the now and then.”
Across the street, downtown visitors are encouraged to step in front of the Edison Mural and “take a souvenir photo of yourself in his lab.”
The background of the Edison Mural shows three of Edison’s world-changing inventions: the phonograph, the Ediphone transcription unit and the nichrome battery, which was invented in downtown West Orange in what is now the new Edison Lofts apartment complex.
Front and center, Edison holds his signature achievement—the electric light–which is also the DWOA’s logo. According to Brick, the GE Edison Mazda 1910 Squirrel Cage Tungsten Filament configuration appears as a “W” for “West Orange” both in reality and in the mural.
The mural is complete with the famous Edison quote, “What you are will show in what you do.”
Before and after photos of the murals as well as the original postcards can be seen in the album above.
For more information on the technology and how SprayPrinter created the process, click HERE.