MOUNTAINSIDE—Consider it a modern day totem pole.
What was once a boring, gray, concrete column is now a mural of mosaic panels featuring butterflies, flowers and birds, greeting visitors to Union County’s Trailside Science Museum and Nature Center in the Watchung Reservation.
“We wanted it to be educational,” said artist DeBorah(CQ) Goletz, who along with other members of the Potters Guild of New Jersey, donated hundreds of hours of their time and materials to make the panels that now cover the lower eight feet of the support column.
Goletz, whose professional work includes mosaic murals at New York City subway stations, designed a panel showing the metamorphosis of a Monarch butterfly. She was also responsible for overseeing the installation of the 12 panels and five decorative bands.
“For many of the members, this was their first time working with mosaics,” Goletz said, noting that columns with mosaic inlays at a Barcelona opera house were the inspiration for the Trailside column.
In discussing the idea with Trailside Director Patricia Bertsch, the decision was made to have the panels reflect species indigenous to the area, she said.
But even those guild members who had worked with mosaics before, soon discovered that “a column has its own challenges,” Goletz said.
Panels had to be adjusted to the column, with its 44-inch circumference, as the artists were soon reminded of their high school geometry and how the curve of the column required that the panels be wider than had they been when they were first sketched out on flat surfaces.
Mountainside resident Judy Musicant was president of the guild when the project was first conceived.
“The idea was for a public mural,” Musicant said. “This was the first place I thought of.”
The guild used to hold its semi-annual pottery sales at the museum. But when the facility underwent a major renovation and expansion several years ago, the show was moved to a nearby church. But that did not diminish the desire by guild members to create something for the museum, she said.
“I would lose track of time when I was working on this,” said Mimi Stadler, whose panel featured a cardinal.
“I would look up and hours had passed. It’s very engrossing,” said the Hillside resident.
As the artists carefully applied one panel after another, Bertsch would swing by to check on the progress.
“I love it. It’s a beautiful work,” Bertsch said. “Actually, it’s its own exhibit. It features the native plants and animals that you would find in the forest of the Watchung Reservation.”
Bertsch said she was also happy with the way the Trailside Museum Association was able to contribute $600, which was then matched by the Union County Board of Freeholders, to fund the installation of the artwork.
For guild member Ritsuko(CQ) Moore of Summit, the project has been inspirational.
Moore usually focused most of her pottery work on dinnerware. But she volunteered to help with the installation and that has now inspired her to try a mosaic piece, she said.
“I think I’m going to try to make a table top,” Moore said.
The project was also a learning experience in separating personal feelings from art, as Ellen Mulligan discovered.
Mulligan has no particular fondness for blue jays. But they are beautiful and their shading allowed for the use of blue tiles with an iridescence that captures the eye.
“But they’re very abrasive,” said the Nutley resident. “And they’re so obnoxious.”
Artist DeBorah(CQ) Goletz, of West Milford, works on a section of mosaic tiles that were recently applied to a column at the Trailside Visitor Center. The mosaic panels depict some of the birds, butterflies and plant life that can be found at the Watchung Reservation.
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