Since late summer, visitors to the Lambertville Free Public Library have been treated to a dazzling vision of Time, Nature and our sister river towns. Bob Heath Jr. sought a mural for the rear wall of his neighboring Exxon Station on Bridge and Main Streets. He engaged artist Graham Preston (visit his website) and the result is “Dearest Home, Sincerely and Quietly, Now.” We asked Bob and Graham about the story behind the mural and its compelling imagery.
BH: I wanted people to see something really nice in that spot. I thought it was a great wall for a mural, so I talked to a few artists and then connected with Graham, who went to school with my kids.
GP: When Bobby first approached me about the possibility of doing a mural and showed me the wall, it was the scale of the project that attracted me to it. I saw it as a wonderful opportunity and personal challenge to create something that functioned outside the gallery arena. A public work like this has the potential to interact with many people daily.
BH: Kids have placed painted rocks in the garden in front of the mural, and it’s great to see they are connecting to the work. Honoring the history of Lambertville and New Hope was important to me—and not just for this mural. For a long time, I’ve given out DVD’s of the 1939 documentary that shows recreation in Lambertville.
GP: I’d like to think that “Dearest Home” is perhaps a gentle and loving nudge to my birthplace that stretches the boundaries of “beauty” for the folks who have a hard-lined preconception of what art is, based around American Impressionism. I’ve always viewed New Hope and Lambertville as one entity. In my mind, one doesn’t exist without the other, but more importantly, it’s my Home, the place that holds the memories of my family.
What stayed with me the most while making this work was the question of what Time is and what it means to use our time within this life in a way that attaches our physical bodies to a place that we identify as “Home.” I kept thinking about the stages of our lives and the choices that we make that in effect, make us who we are. I kept thinking about growing up, making a family, making a life, growing old, and dying in a small town while the town itself changes. I kept asking myself how that affects the places we occupy, how the changes in a place affect us, and how to portray those ideas, questions and feelings.
BH: There are details in the mural about tradition. The man driving the yellow Jeep is my dad, Bob, who owned the gas station before I did and drove a Jeep like that. The Atlantic service station represents the station that my grandfather, Russell, opened in 1935 on North Main Street. In 1946 he moved to Bridge Street on a plot that was part of the front lawn of the Lilly Mansion. The Exxon station was rebuilt in the early 1970’s and is also seen in Graham’s depiction of the buildings along Bridge Street.
GP: It was really important to Bobby that the Exxon station represent its history and also keep within the spirit of the mural itself. We thought, wouldn’t it be neat if we collapsed the progression of time to show everything that it has been as a business at the same time? So, we included details of each era in one space. The entire composition is loaded with symbolism of life, death, history, and focused on collapsing time into one 2-dimensional space.
BH: The stick figures at the bottom right are from images on the wampum belt the native Americans gave William Penn.
GP: The Lenape Indians presented the belt to William Penn to signify the agreement to live and work in harmony while sharing the land. Sadly, we all know how that panned out. This was extremely important to me to portray, because it recollects a moment in history where the structure of our newborn society could have been molded differently. On the original wampum belt, made out of shell beads and animal skin, two people holding hands are depicted on a flat 2-D plane facing the viewer. In the mural’s version, the flat stick figures appear, mirrored against each other in classical two-point, illusionary perspective. The figures are contained within a fractured, floating prism. I like to think of this as a lens of history—imperfect, scarred, the reflective consequence of actions, presenting the possibility of another way in a metaphysical sense of time being non-linear.
BH: The mural makes people smile. It’s possible we may add to it in the future.
GP: I think it might be interesting to attempt to translate time and change with some of the other buildings.
Graham shared photos of the creation of the mural.
GP: Bobby Heath is a saint! I was originally hired three and a half years before the mural was complete. With the help of Bobby, an old family friend, C.L. Lindsay, and the entire New Hope Arts Organization, I got the mural panels built, prepped, painted and installed in three months. I’d say the mural took an entire village, a studio move, the death of my father, an incredible girlfriend, the support of many loving friends and patrons, and 9-10 months of working almost every hour of every working day.