Monday, June 29, 2015

East Somerville Main Streets and Mudflat Studio use Mosaics and Media to preserve memories and promote change

Left to Right--  Teresa Vazquez Dodero, Laura Smith, Lynn Gervens

East Somerville Main Streets and Mudflat Studio use Mosaics and Media to preserve memories and promote change
By Doug Holder

In the 20 years that I have lived in Somerville I have often heard of that bastion of ceramic arts, the Mudflat Studio. I always wanted to visit, but I never got around to it. So when I got the Somerville Arts Council announcement about East Somerville Main Streets' collaboration with the studio on a mosaic project, as part of a larger project “This is East,” I was intrigued and tracked the story down.
The Mudflat Studio was founded in 1971 in East Somerville. In September of 2011 it moved from its original home in East Somerville to a reinvigorated 1915 vintage building that once was one of Somerville’s 14 movie theaters
The Mudflat building stands on Broadway, a street that is lined with bodegas, Hispanic eateries, small markets, liquor stores, and the like. I met the three principal players in  the“This is East” project which includes artist and expressive therapist Laura Smith. Smith works closely with Teresa Vazquez Dodero, the new director of East Somerville Main Streets, putting together this ambitious project. Lynn Gervens, the Executive Director of Mudflat Studio, and who provides technical assistance for the project-- was on hand as well.  

The “This is East” project presents East Somerville voices, stories, and history to record what East Somerville was, and hopefully in some way inform the changes it is going under with the rapid gentrification of our city. Dodero is a realist and told me “If rents go up, and people sell their homes, and the gentrification proceeds unchecked, the neighborhood will lose its diversity. Right now I like the mix of hipsters, and old and new Somervillians.” Laura Smith told me that the project includes a documentary produced at Somerville Community Access TV, and enjoys the backing of the Somerville Arts Council. The documentary will include stories from residents that will serve as a historical record for this often overlooked part of our city. These conversations are part of a three pronged project that include mosaics, a documentary, and banners.

As part of the mosaic project (that is slated to be completed in Aug 2015), mosaic tiles will decorate the faces of benches outside  the East Somerville Public Library. The mosaic have been created by residents of various ages—schoolchildren to seniors, from workshops that Smith ran. Smith said: “I worked with elders at the Council on Aging site on Cross St, as well as a cross section of folks throughout East Somerville.” Peppered on these mosaics are portraits of significant people in the community. They will also appear on banners that are part of the project. Dodero reminded me that “This is East” is funded by a NEA grant, an essential part of their funding.

Lynn Gervens—who has been at the helm of the Studio for over 30 years told me, “Mudflat has provided technical support for the production of the mosaics. We have several large kilns to fire the mosaics.  After the mosaics are formed, they are fired and glazed, and the process is repeated.” Gervens gave me a tour of Mudflat. It is an impressive site— a sort of a cinema of ceramics. I could visualize the tall and wide screen of a movie theater on a towering wall.  Off to the side there were a plethora of shelves sporting pottery of all sorts and sizes—probably where movie-lovers and lovers once sat.  Gervens said, “We have 39 studios for artists. We offer classes, and we have extensive outreach in the community. Our current artist-in-residence is Rachel Eng. She is a clay artist who has her work on display in window showcase in Davis Square.

 As Somerville changes more projects like this one should crop up. It should remind folks that Somerville was once a very different burg from the prospective city of the future. And hopefully there will still be enough people around to remember what it once was.

No comments:

Post a Comment