According to The Times Herald, almost two dozen officials and residents turned out for a public meeting on Thursday to see the final sketch for the proposed mural to be installed at Lafayette and DeKalb streets.
Artist Matthew Bush unveiled the sketch for the crowd and Norristown Mural Project manager Deborah Zuchman took notes of suggestions for possible tweaks to the design.
"A mural does not ever belong to the artist. It really is born from the community it comes from,” Bush told The Herald. “If it was not consistent with their vision, it would not be effective.”
Bush told Patch a bit about his process for creating the mural.
"A mural, more than other art forms, requires that the artist remove him or herself, and act as a vehicle," Bush told Patch in an email interview. "The work will belong to the community, and if it is to be successful, it must derive of that community as well... The ideas for the design were the products of a community meeting at Borough Hall in February and the resulting design was approved at a subsequent meeting there in March, with no dissenting votes.
Bush pointed out that the final sketch is still just an early step in the process.
"Even after the approval, however, some new ideas were raised, particularly regarding color choice and the personality/character of the featured figures," said Bush. "In each case, the emphasis was that we maintain a joyful presentation. I spoke with the rest of the mural team this past weekend, and we are all committed to effecting the community's vision accurately. Because, really, it never belongs to us. The mural team is essentially the tool by which the community effects its vision, and visually represents itself. That is particularly important for this wall, as it will represent the community to all comers who enter across the DeKalb Street Bridge."
Bush pointed out that although he was no stranger to Norristown when he started the process, he did a fair amount of research to get a real feel for the history of our community.
"I was already acquainted with the town in a way, though I hadn't known it. I read Maniac Magee when I was a kid; it's by Jerry Spinelli, an excellent youth author who's from Norristown and has based much of his work on growing up there (including the above title)," said Bush. "I read another book of his in preparation for this mural – "Knots in My Yo-Yo String," an endearingly honest account of his childhood growing up in Norristown.
"I also read a thorough summary of the town's history by Stan Huskey, The Times Herald editor, and Norristown: Then & Now, by Jack and Brian Coll, Bush explained. "The latter is composed largely of pictures of locations in Norristown from respectively different time periods. The book was particularly helpful in rendering the history of Norristown, which is most effected in the mural through its landscape. One can see, when looking at the design, that there are not only many buildings there represented, but there are even Norristown structures that no longer exist, included to reflect other eras."
Bush noted that iconic Norristown locations and features like the Norris Theater, the Valley Forge Hotel, the Arrow Shirt Company store, and a Liberty Bell Trolley are all included in the design.
"Of course, I also visited Norristown several times," Bush aded. "The houses in the mural, for instance, are not drawn from pictures but are actual houses I saw when I was there... The zoo and many of the buildings included are drawn from visits to Norristown, rather than reference materials. I also collected anecdotal evidence of the character of Norristown and its history by walking its streets and interacting with its citizens."
"Of particular help was an afternoon visit to Lou's where I had my first zep (NOT my last)," said Bush. "[I] spoke with a few older lifelong residents. Everybody with whom I spoke was very helpful, but also offered different views on the changes that have occurred in Norristown and different brands of optimism for its future."
The mural is expected to be installed in June on the side of 201 DeKalb just as you enter Norristown from the DeKalb Street Bridge. The piece is meant to be a gateway for visitors to Norristown.
Residents who would like to be involved in the creation of the mural are invited to join in a community paint day from 3 to 5 p.m. on Sunday, May 6, on the third floor of the Centre Theater at 208 DeKalb St. Volunteers are not required to have painting experience and novice artists will be painting small paint-by-numbers-like sections during the session.
The mural is being funded by a state grant secured by state Sen. Daylin Leach's office. Several public meetings have been held over the last few months to hear input from residents and stake holders on the content of the mural.
Read more about the history of the Norristown Mural Project here.