Public Art in Downtown Woodbridge

“A mural becomes a physical part of the real world. It becomes a landmark; it can even turn around a neighborhood and spark businesses to move to the area. It’s not just a painting on a wall.” That was Franc Palaia in an interview on his murals. This is true of all public art projects. Woodbridge Downtown is home to several of these projects. If you do not recall those immediately then they seem to be doing a good job hiding in plain sight.

Some of these are individual contributions to the Downtown, others required considerable collaboration. Sculptor Glenn Murgacz has worked on his own and with others to lend a softer tone to the otherwise stern Downtown. Even when he has used with stainless steel.

Sculptor Glenn Murgacz and an ace mechanic Ted Lorenz III put together the train in front of the J.J. Bitting Brewing Co. The stainless-steel sculpture is 4 feet wide, 13 feet long, and about 6 feet 7 inches tall. It weighs about a ton. The number 33 on the front is the street number of property on which it is located.

In the planning stages of the project Murgacz was thinking of a leaping horse. He approached Mike Cerami about putting a piece of artwork in front of the brewing company. They talked about his plans and Cerami suggested a train. It made sense as the train station is right next door. To plan for the sculpture, Murgacz used a miniature vintage train and photos from the Internet. Initially he had planned to use steel but then moved to stainless steel. It was easier to polish and is maintenance free.

The Murgacz-Lorenz duo put the pieces together in the sculptor’s garage studio on Schoder Avenue. Murgacz would collect scrap for the project during the day and then they work on it during the evening. The sculpture incorporates an actual train whistle and bell of a train.

If you are near the sculpture you will notice the plates engraved with names of people or businesses who have donated to the project. The cowcatcher displays names of the Iselin Cub Scouts who donated toward the project.

Visible from the train sculpture, across the street, are couple of other public art projects. One of them is the Veteran Mural Wall at the NJ Transit train station. Like the Soldiers and Sailors monument nearby, these murals pay tribute to local residents who donned the uniform. In this case the gratitude is directed to the veterans of the Revolutionary War, Civil War, World Wars, the Korean and Vietnam Wars, Operation Desert Storm and the ongoing War on Terrorism.

About sixty artists, art students collaborated with twelve residents of the Evergreen Senior Center to create the Mural. The students came from the Woodbridge, Colonia and John F. Kennedy Memorial high schools. Collaboration was not limited the artists. The project was co-sponsored by the Mayor’s Office, the Township School District Administration & Board of Education, and New Jersey Transit who donated the wall space.

The genesis of the project is an example of another form of collaboration. The Mayor meets residents over breakfast at various Township locations throughout the year. A grade school student from Colonia made a request that finally resulted in the five panels.

The patronage provided by NJ Transit to arts, local artists and pubic art project is evident not only from it sponsoring the Veteran Mural but also from another project. The NJ Transit has commissioned Franc Palaia to design three 20 foot etched glass windscreens for the Woodbridge station.

Franc also painted the murals in the tunnel underpass at the station. Painted in 2006, the murals depict buildings of significance in the Downtown area. It also captures a snapshot of the businesses that occupied these buildings. The Middlesex Water Building displays the Chamber of Commerce board. The florist is shown to be at the location where we now have The Max Challenge of Woodbridge.

The artist has taken the liberty of juxtaposing buildings that were and are further apart or on opposite sides of the street. But one also wonders what happened to Sam’s Tailors, Francesco’s Ristorante or Gucina Tosccana. What were the stories behind the ribbon cutting and closure or transition of those stores?

Most obscure among the art displayed in the Downtown is the 2009 metallic sculpture “5 Points” by Glen Murgacz. It springs from the greens like tall blades of metal grass opposite J.J. Bitting. Anyone who can solve this enigma will be awarded the “Downtown Interpreter” award. But no cheating! Interviewing Glen would be interpreted as such.

The mural on the outer wall of Ristorante Venezia facing the picnic area donated by Vito Maza Salon and Spa is a simpler work of art. It was designed and created by the Woodbridge Artisan Guild using tiles sponsored by the Richmond Tile and Bath. Grant for the project came from The Middlesex County Cultural and Heritage Commission.

So there you have it! The no nonsense Downtown has a very soft spot for the finer things in life. The business owners are able and willing to step up to the plate when there is a project to be sponsored.

This is an open invitation to all the local artists and artisans to pitch their idea to the Downtown Merchants Association. If you are Friend & Patron of the Downtown how about posting some selfies with one of the public art projects? And while you are scouting around for the best shot you may also want to take the self guided Historical Walking tour of the Downtown!