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  • Writer's pictureThis Is Rutherford

Grand Opening of the Tunnel

Updated: Jan 6, 2023

By Jennifer Ersalesi

Photo credits: Dan Meredith, Janice Guzman, and Jess Stiles

Photo credits: John Falat and Colette Marino

For decades, the tunnel known as Clara’s Tunnel was used as a covered walkway to get from Park Avenue to what is now the Kip Garage. Clara's Tunnel was given its name because it was located below a store named, "Clara's" where many women bought their wedding gowns and formal attire in the 1970's and 1980's. After decades of use, the tunnel was in need of refurbishment. Councilman Ray Guzman and Public Information Officer Kim Bogosian worked together to create an artistic plan for the tunnel. With the assistance of Mayor Frank Nunziato and Borough Administrator, Bob Kakoleski, a team was put together to execute the plans that were created.

Photographed above: Bob Kakoleski (Borough Administrator), Eddie Narucki (Borough Arts Committee), Jennifer Gonzalez (owner of Painting on Park), Cliff Witmyer (Rutherford Chamber of Commerce Vice-President), Councilman Ray Guzman, Mayor Frank Nunziato, and Deputy Chief Sean Farrell.

During the Grand Opening of the tunnel on Thursday, December 29th, President of the Rutherford Chamber of Commerce, Dan Meredith, and Vice-President, Cliff Witmyer assisted with the ribbon cutting.

This is Rutherford interviewed Councilman Ray Guzman, Jennifer Gonzalez (owner of Painting on Park), and Kim Bogosian (the Borough's Public Information Officer) to learn more about the tunnel project, the process and their pride in the final result.

TIR: Why did you decide to take on the tunnel project?

Ray Guzman: I have always had an interest in rehabilitating the tunnel. I was asked to take on this project by Mayor Nunziato as part of the plan of Branding the Borough. I was very excited and jumped at the chance. A grant was secured under Transit Village Grants which made this project even more exciting. The awarded contract for rehabilitation was in the amount of $196k. $160k came from the grant and balance $36k was Borough contribution.

Jennifer Gonzalez: I was so excited about the potential of being able to create an artistic component to the long stretch of white space along the wall inside the tunnel I couldn’t pass it up! It was important to me as a resident and business owner of Painting on Park, that this would be something I could contribute in my own way to make the space more beautiful. Rutherford has not only given us a home, but it also has become a place where we can get to know so many of its families through art. My students walk around and have a sense of pride seeing how murals can add flavor and beautiful expression to their town, I wanted to make something here that they could be proud of!

Logo created by Kim Bogosian and Ray Guzman and Trees designed and painted by Jennifer Gonzalez

Kim Bogosian: Councilman Guzman and I first sat down over two years ago to create a logo that would embody Rutherford and be versatile enough to use in Clara's Tunnel and beyond.

It's not often the Borough gets to fully rehabilitate a space, so anytime the opportunity arises it's important that you think about how people will use it for years to come. As a Borough, we're finally beginning to appreciate that the arts can be part of any design, even something as utilitarian as a tunnel. It's really gratifying and important to update the tunnel for safety and usability purposes while including not only Jen's artistic tribute to the Borough of trees but also the wall frames that will be routinely updated with art from a variety of locals.

Photographed above: Mayor Frank Nunziato, Jennifer Gonzalez, Councilman Ray Guzman, and Borough Administrator Bob Kakoleski

TIR: Now that the tunnel is painted and ready to be used by the public, how do you hope people will feel as they travel through the tunnel?

RG: The first and foremost reason for the rehabilitation was safety. The tunnel was not lit well and had no cameras in it. We wanted the residents and visitors to feel safe walking through the tunnel. New lighting was installed as well as cameras that feed to our police station. Security screens were added which allows a pedestrian to not only see themselves walking through the tunnel but also allows them to see behind them without turning around regardless if they are walking from Park Ave side or Kip Garage side. We hope our residents and visitors feel secure walking through and also get a feeling of who Rutherford is as a community. In addition, the ceiling, floors and walls were reconditioned. A beautiful mural was also painted on the wall and art showcases were added.

JG: I hope that people feel a sense of refreshment as they walk through the tunnel. The new tunnel is bright, clean and has a story that we want to share with all of its visitors- we are a town of growth, change, and diversity, we want you to enjoy your time here!

KB: I've already had the pleasure of watching peoples' faces light up while walking through the tunnel for the first time. Their reactions exceeded my expectations. They actually took the time to slow down, admire the mural and look at the posters.

TIR: Tell us more about your collaborative artistic efforts with Kim Bogosian.

RG: Kim Bogosian was very involved in helping me bring a vision into reality. I had the vision in my head but needed to get it on paper. Kim has the experience as a graphic designer and was instrumental in bringing the vision to paper. We spent many hours tweaking here and there until we felt it was right. The end result shows we were able to capture the vision. I am grateful for Kim’s collaboration and dedication on this project.

JG: Kim worked with Ray to design the new logo, and had the idea of creating blowups of my trees to explain the thinking process that went into what we were doing. I loved that idea! Sometimes as artists we tend to not think past the process and the actual execution of the work, but she was so great to have the foresight on having these printed. Her posters are currently displayed in the showcase across from the mural and are great for passersby who are walking through to stop and read the backstory of the design.

TIR: Tell us more about your collaborative artistic efforts with Ray Guzman.

JG: When I spoke to Councilman Guzman, I instantly understood his passion for this project. He wanted to not only create something beautiful and new, but also something meaningful as well. He worked with Kim Bogosian to create a logo that would go on the wall, and when they reached out to me about hand painting it, I felt like we could take it further. When I pitched the idea of creating a backdrop to go behind the logo, we both kept coming back to the Rutherford being the Borough of Trees. Ray was a big supporter of having this mural be art driven, and was such a pleasure to work with throughout the process. He was so excited about the mural, I felt like I had to make sure it came out great!

KB: It was such a fun process working with Ray to develop that logo. I think it was one of our first creative collaborations. Ray has a great aesthetic sense and has a strong branding background which made it easy to communicate with each other about where the logo should go. I'm so glad we did it, because now we have a solid brand to build on that I can use almost anytime I promote the Borough. Ray has a great vision for how Rutherford should be seen by residents and visitors. It's really nice having someone who speaks that language and insists on quality work because the way Rutherford is perceived really does affect us all as well as our local economy.

TIR: Tell us more about your collaborative artistic efforts with Jennifer Gonzalez.

RG: The Rutherford 07070 logo was created (collaboration between Kim and me), over a year ago. The logo was always planned to be a part of the Clara’s tunnel project but it needed another dimension. I wanted trees painted on the wall but realized this was not an easy task. During discussions with Mayor Nunziato about this need we both quickly thought of a local artist that recently painted a mural on a local flower shop facade. We reached out to Jennifer Gonzalez (a resident and business owner -Painting on Park) to see if she had interest. Luckily for all of us, Jen was “All In”! I expressed my vision and Jen not only ran with it but, really put her heart and soul into the project. She drove around town photographing trees that would be able to be painted in a way that showed Rutherford’s diversity and a community standing side by side as one. The end result was so much more than I imagined. Jen worked in a very time constraint atmosphere, but would not give into lessening of the story and vision. In the end, we now have a beautiful mural for all to be proud of and a vision was completed way beyond my expectations. A job well done by one of our very own local artist. It doesn’t get better than that! Oh, did I mention that Jennifer Gonzalez painted the trees free of charge as a gift to the Borough and residents!

KB: Jen's enthusiasm was contagious! We asked her to pull together a design on fairly short notice and she immediately jumped at the chance to create something for her community. I'm grateful she lent her time and talent to this mural because it makes a huge impact.

TIR: Jennifer, You were inspired by the actual trees in Rutherford and used photos you took of those trees to paint the trees in the tunnel. What was the painting process like and how long did it take?

JG: When I spoke to Councilman Guzman about creating a backdrop for his logo, I wanted to do something simple so it wouldn’t compete with the logo itself, but it would also need to be beautiful and have relevance to our town.

I drove around Rutherford and hand sketched different varieties of trees that I saw on our streets and thought about how they were all different but had so much in common too. That became the inspiration behind the design- creating diversity but also unity in the work. The trees represent people from all walks of life- each tree has a different leaf, some are young trees that aren’t yet full and are growing. They represent new families and businesses moving to our town to start their lives here. Some other trees are larger and fuller, those represent the history and tradition and families that have been here for decades that live in our town. I love the idea of old and new. We need all of it to have a great town! Even through diversity, we all have the same thing in common; we all are striving for a better Rutherford and we love where we live.

The painting process was labor intensive, and it was cold! I had heaters to work with, but some days were just cold and wet, so I had to power through! I was working under a time crunch before the holidays too, so I had to work faster than usual. I free-handed the whole mural (no stencil), so each leaf is sketched, hand painted and then given multiple coats. When you look at them, think thousands of leaves- all done one leaf at a time! The project took a few weeks since other work was being done simultaneously inside the tunnel. We were all working our quickest to be done before Christmas!

TIR: Anything else you would like to add.

RG: As we head into the New Year we will roll out the procedures for use of the art display cases. The intent is for the Boroughs Art Committee to install monthly art exhibits into the cases as well give local businesses a chance to advertise. We also have installed electronic message boards (next to security screens) that can be used to showcase happenings in the Borough as well as highlight our local businesses. This project was a large group effort and would not have been possible without all involved. Mayor Nunziato, I thank you for entrusting in me to Chair this project and bring my vision to reality. My Council Colleagues for your continuous support. Our Borough Administrator Bob Kakoleski for keeping the ball rolling and your coordinating efforts. Rose Inguanti for keeping the details of the vision intact and your countless hours you dedicated to this project. I’d also like to thank, Borough Architect Ciro Fraschilla for all the technical work and steering this project. Lexcel Management under the direction of Salvatore DiPiazza for construction of the project. Chief John Russo for your input and guidance regarding security in the tunnel. Goldtype for installing the IT/security services and Neglia Engineering.

JG: I loved being part of a public art project that added some warmth, softness and context to this space. When Councilman Guzman and I spoke, I knew right away that I wanted this to be a donation that I gave the town. Rutherford has given me so much, this was one small thing that I felt I could do to give back. I love where I live, as an artist I feel a responsibility to create a better place wherever I go. This mural was a fun one that will hopefully inspire younger generations to do the same. I’m hoping this was a Christmas gift that will keep on giving to others through time!

KB: It was exciting to work with Katie Pippin and the Borough Arts Committee to create a policy for how the committee will invite local artists to display their work. When the Arts Committee begins filling the frames with art, it will really feel like a community effort. While the Arts Committee gathers material to display, we decided we needed some imagery to fill the frames now, and occasionally when we have an empty frame.

I would especially like to thank resident and photographer Jess Stiles (photographed above) who graciously donated several of her amazing drone photos of Rutherford for me to incorporate into poster designs. I had seen Jess's work online and thought she had captured some amazing drone shots of town in all seasons. I reached out to her and she didn't hesitate to send me options to choose from. Her enthusiasm was also contagious.

I'd also like to thank Rose Inguanti for always trying to keep this project on track, Sal DiPiazza of Lexcel Construction for being a pleasure to work with throughout the process as well as Mayor Nunziato for asking the Arts Committee to be an integral part of the new Clara's Tunnel.

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