by Barbara Sherf
A “perfect pitch” has just transformed a vanilla-colored cinderblock vestibule into a reimagined entry with a thought-provoking mural. The 65-year-old Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill Preschool officially dedicated the mural on May 16.
The mural was painted by Wyndmoor artist, curator and educator Anthony Vega. During a tour of the school last summer with his wife, Aidan, new Preschool Director Carla DiOrio James made a pitch that wound up being a home run for the teachers, parents and 60 students enrolled in a program that is seeing the introduction of a bilingual curriculum.
Vega, 38, whose 4-year-old son, Jad, is enrolled in the school, has done a myriad of exhibits nationally and at local galleries, including an exhibit at Philadelphia International Airport last year. Within the first three minutes of the tour, James and Vega started brainstorming on a mural that reflected the PCCH Preschool values: “You are welcome here. You are seen. You are valued just as you are. Your culture is celebrated here.”
“Anthony took great care to not only reflect his beautiful aesthetic, but also to understand the values and cultures of our community,” said an effervescent James. “By late winter, Anthony took on the lofty task of planning the logistics for an artistic collaboration between our preschool and 18 teenage boys from Springside Chestnut Hill Academy. He navigated all of these potential stressors with grace and generosity.”
Students not only got to meet a working artist, but the little ones contributed 50 of the 140 square pixel tiles that now line both sides of the entry and up a stairway.
Teacher Megan McGowan, who went to preschool at PCCH and whose children attended the school, said the students learned more than making art.
“Not only did they see a working artist in action and learn about the process, but they also used computers, measured and used science in creating the tints, they saw themselves as artists and they now see the possibilities in their everyday lives,” McGowan gushed at a classy celebration complete with live music, food and a champagne toast.
As you examine the artwork, one face clearly stands out before your gaze is drawn to the various layers. That face is of 2-year-old Haley Duggin of Mt. Airy. Proud parents Heather and Julian were not shocked when they learned Haley’s image would be front and center.
“When the fire department came here, she had her picture in the Local,” said Heather as Julian nodded with enthusiasm. “She is so bright, bubbly and happy.”
In an interview following the “unveiling,” Vega said, while sitting on a tiny chair in a colorful classroom, that he was nervous about the reaction to the pixelated mural design that parents, teachers and students pass every day.
“I’ve been making artwork for a while, and other than the airport exhibit, I haven’t made such a public piece,” he explaind. “I felt more vulnerable with this piece than my other work because I wanted to get it right. I really needed to understand what this school is trying to accomplish and really didn’t want to mess it up. I’m a bit in awe of the reaction to this piece and can breathe a sigh of relief.”
Vega spent three weeks in his studio working from images sent to him by parents and faculty. He then worked on-site with the SCH students for over a month, placing the tiles and painting over the cinderblock wall.
“I went to Sherwin-Williams in Chestnut Hill with this crazy request, asking them to mix 40 test-size samples,” Vega recalled. “From there, I made 90 paint samples and installed the mural with the help of Sean McLaughlin.” (Sean and his wife, Lizann, of Wyndmoor, were very much a part of the installation process. The McLaughlins’ two older children also attended the school dating back to 2013.)
Vega, who has taught at Penn State Brandywine and the University of Delaware, will embark on a new gig this fall teaching at Reading Area Community College. With an undergraduate degree in Fine Arts and Philosophy from Saint Joseph’s and a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Delaware, Vega was philosophical in summing up the experience.
“This whole project was a nobrainer,” Vega said. “How often do you get a chance to do something for the school your kid goes to? I realized I might not get a chance to do this again in his life, and wanted to do it for faculty and students who will ideally enjoy it for many years.”
Flourtown storyteller Barbara Sherf captures the stories of individuals and businesses. She can be reached at CaptureLifeStories@gmail.com