By KATE ALBRIGHT and JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
A new mural has been added to Montclair’s streetscape as a tribute to those lost to COVID-19.
Local artists Lauren Vroegindewey, Marguerite Kaufer and Nicole Nuzzolo painted “Reverberations of Reawakenings,” a 35-by-8-foot piece of art, in partnership with Montclair Diner at 613 Valley Road. The opening ceremony was held Sunday, Oct. 10.
The artists hope that the new mural serves as a reflection on community appreciation, and hope for more vibrant days.
“After living through a pandemic that has resulted in islands of loss and isolation, these artists offer a tribute to those lost due to the pandemic, including Jordan Tassy, who became a Monclarian local hero by pitching in when sanitation workers were hit with a COVID outbreak,” a press release provided by Vroegindewey reads. “Using their vibrant tools of creativity, they have crafted an uplifting vision for this next chapter of Upper Montclair’s history.”
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The mural also serves as “an interactive gift to the public” and the community is encouraged to write the names of those lost due to COVID-19 in the clouds of the painting with pens provided by the artists, the artists say.
Kaufer, Nuzzolo and Vroegindewey were Montclair State University students of Julie Heffernan’s integrated studio 4 class in October 2020, when Heffernan asked the class who wanted to work on a public mural. The three artists immediately volunteered and started conceptualizing three separate works.
Throughout the process, the students consulted with their professor.
“They sent me three distinct images,” Heffernan said. “Marguerite’s was abstract. Nicole’s was kind of a pop figuration and Lauren’s was sort of a romantic landscape.”
Heffernan encouraged them to make their ideas work together.
“Your first glimmerings, your first ideas, they’re wonderful jumping off points, but they’re never the end goal,” Heffernan said. “And if they are, it doesn’t really add up to art. Art has to go through this evolution. …That’s when they really put their collaborative spirit together and saw the internal linkages and that’s when it started to make sense. ”
At Heffernan’s suggestion, they extended the thread that runs through the center of the mural to appear as though it’s coming from the figure’s mouth as she reaches out of a window, “leading her through the craziness of the year,” Kaufer said.
Vroegindewey said the three artists “worked through the lens of the pandemic” and the result was “a narrative of isolation,” giving tribute to those lost due to the pandemic.
The space for community tributes was born after the death of Tassy from complications with COVID-19 in March. Tassy helped Montclair neighbors during a spring recycling pickup suspension, when he put out an open call online to drive residents’ recyclables to the Community Services Yard for a small fee. Soon after he contracted COVID-19.
“Once I heard the news of Jordan Tassy, it really hit me,” Vroegindewey said. “And just knowing how involved he was in the town and how much the community was affected, I wanted to offer a tribute in a space in order for people to put that pain somewhere tangibly. And so I wanted to make it an interactive element because these past two years have just brought so much pain.”
To date, 75 Montclairians have lost their loved ones to COVID-19.
Sunday, Norma Tassy wrote her son’s name on the wall.
“He was a very community-oriented kid. So it’s nice that there’s a place where the community can remember him. It was a surprise and it’s a nice feeling to have so many come out in support of him. And we’ve had a lot of support since his passing and it just feels good that the support continues,” Norma Tassy said.
Jordan Tassy’s best friend, Imran Khawaja, added Jordan’s nickname below: Polo.
Ali Khawaja, the younger brother of Imran Khawaja, said that he didn’t know much about the project beforehand, “but seeing it here today, it’s actually a very, very interesting piece in and of itself. And I think it’s a great way to commemorate the ones that we lost.”
He said Jordan Tassy was like an older brother to him.
Imran Khawaja said he thought Jordan would have appreciated the mural.
“I think he would have really loved to be remembered in this way, because he took an immense amount of pride in where he came from,” Imran Khawaja said. “And so being remembered with his tree in the park [Nishuane Park] and this beautiful piece of art — he would have loved this.”
The marker will remain attached to the wall for people to use as they add the names of loved ones lost to the pandemic.
The mural has been awarded the Excellence in Public Art from MSU’s Department of Art and Design for its design.
Heffernan said MSU art students have had access to the wall for the last 12 years.