Monday, April 05, 2010

Nick Jehlen and The Davis Square Tiles Project

Nick Jehlen and The Davis Square Tiles Project

By Doug Holder

Nick Jehlen is a dyed–in-the-wool Somervillian. His mother is Pat Jehlen the state senator. He grew up here, graduated Somerville High, Tufts University, and currently lives in the Davis Square section of Somerville. He works as a graphic designer for a number of non-profits in the area.

Jehlen and Katie Hargrove, along with the collaboration of two social action consulting agencies: “The Action Mile” and “The Think Tank that is yet to be named” have developed: “The Davis Square Tile Project”.

According to the history provided on the project’s website:

“During the 1978-79 school year, Jackson Gregory and Joan Wye of the Belfast Bay Tile Works worked with children aged five to thirteen at Somerville's Powderhouse Community School to create 249 tiles that were later installed in the Davis Square T stop. These tiles, part of the Arts on the Line program that placed art in and around MBTA stations, present a unique opportunity to look back at how Somerville has changed since the opening of the Red Line extension in 1984.”

Jehlen feels that these small, square bursts of art can act as a catalyst for conversations about where the city was in 1984 when the Davis Square T Stop opened, to where it is now, and to where it will be with the new Green Line extension in Union Square.

Jehlen told me that he has mixed feelings about the Davis Square T. On one hand the new T stop revitalized a stagnant square, on the other it displaced a large community of folks who could no longer afford to live there. Jehlen bemoaned the fact that many of his contemporaries who produced these tiles cannot afford to live in Somerville now.

Jehlen and his band of cohorts, as well as interested volunteers, are collecting stories and anecdotes from the creators of these tiles. A few still live in Somerville, but most, like flighty spores are spread all around the country. By capturing their stories Jehlen hopes people will better understand the history of Somerville.

Jehlen said there will be a number of exhibits of the tiles around town:

“There will be an opening reception for the tiles at Diesel Cafe on
Friday, April 16th at 6pm. Diesel is hosting about 20 of the tiles,
and there will also be on display at Johnny D's, Redbones, Sessa's
Italian Specialties, Magpie, and Downtown Wine and Spirits starting
this week of April 4, 2010. The tiles will be on display until May 23rd.”

The tiles are depictions of things you might expect from kids. There are pictures of their homes, creature features of dinosaurs and such, and even renditions of science experiments, to name just a few themes.

Jehlen told me a poignant story about one of the tile makers Brian Davidson. Davidson was a student at the Powder House School and he made these wonderful and detailed models of buses, trains and train stations. He died at the tender age of 31 at the Alewife T station from a heart attack. His teachers wrote Jehlen to tell his story.

Jehlen, 38, said even though he has lived in places like Madison, Wisconsin, he has kept a well-heeled foot in Somerville. He said Somerville feels like, well, home. He concluded: “The pastures are not greener elsewhere.”

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