While Riverside is an undeniably beautiful place to visit, that can’t always be said if you’re a commuter zooming through the village on the Metra. Once you get downtown, you’re greeted by the backs of old buildings and weather-worn fences. Not exactly the picturesque calling card the village would like to leave with those passing through.
Two years ago Jerry Cervak, the owner of Metal Mites, the East Quincy Street auto body shop, commissioned a group of Riverside-Brookfield High School students to paint a mural to adorn the rear wall of his business, which faces the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe Railroad tracks. The mural, where paintings of different eras of automobiles adorned five 6-by-6-foot panels, was dedicated at the 2012 Riverside Arts Weekend.
Almost exactly two years later, another student-designed and painted mural is up on a fence to the immediate west of Metal Mites. The fence surrounds the rear yard of the Riverside Arts Center and the mural is the culmination of months of work by artists at Hauser Junior High in Riverside.
According to RAC President Kim Piotrowski, the 6-by-16-foot mural depicting iconic images of Riverside, had its origin in a conversation she had last fall with Hauser Junior High art teacher Harjit Singh.
“I knew Mr. Singh has wanted to do something with the RAC for a while, and I really wanted to show support,” said Piotrowski.
Reaching out to Singh was also a way for the RAC to introduce their programming to the junior high students and a way to get to know the budding artists.
“There are so many things kids do,” said Piotrowski. “Art is really specialized. We really want kids to feel great about the possibility of art in their lives.”
During their conversation last fall, Singh asked if there was any project the students in his after-school art club might be able to tackle. Piotrowski immediately thought of that back fence.
“He just took it,” said Piotrowski. “He said he’d have it done by RAW, and here it is.”
Singh was onsite behind the Riverside Arts Center at 32 E. Quincy St. on Friday afternoon, screwing the four-section mural panels to the fence, facing the train tracks. The Riverside Arts Weekend kicked off the following morning.
“Those kids really worked their behinds off for this,” Singh said.
Specifically, three Hauser students did the lion’s share of the work: Daniela Pope, Katie Lahart and Olivia Liu. It was Daniela’s design that was chosen as the basis for the mural.
“I just sat down and thought about what really makes Riverside Riverside,” said Daniela, “so I wanted to put in as many landmarks as I could.”
On the left side of the mural, a tree branch morphs into a paintbrush that sweeps past one of the village’s trademark gas lights and then morphs again into what looks like an aerial view of the Riverside’s street plan.
The right side of the mural features the village’s historic water tower above water symbolizing the Des Plaines River. Above those images is a sky made up of shards of color, which refer to the Higgins Glass studio, said Daniela.
Adorning the center of the mural is a banner spelling out the letters “RAC,” with the letters separated by what looks like the pulses of a heart monitor, “because the RAC is the heartbeat of Riverside,” said Daniela.
With a bit of guidance on color choices and other minor tweaks from Singh, students in the art club traced a projection of the images on the panels with pencils. Then the three girls set about painting the panels, which took about two months. They worked in a hallway at Hauser after school, sometimes until as late as 6 p.m.
“I am so happy with it,” said Daniela. “To see my idea that large and in color is amazing. I think people are going to be surprised.”
Singh applied a coat of polyurethane to the painted plywood panels to help them through the harsh weather. Piotrowski said that because the mural is in sections, it can be changed or added to in future years.
“There’s potential for more,” Piotrowski said. “Perhaps this is something where we can involve more classes. We’ll have it up there as long as we can have it up.”