Jennis moved to Raritan Township from Westfield 21 years ago and feels a connection with Hunterdon. His paintings of Lambertville, Spruce Run Reservoir and the Red Mill adorn the Emergency Department of the Hunterdon Medical Center; he’s been commissioned to paint pictures of horses throughout Hunterdon; and he’s done murals for St. Magdalen Church in Flemington.
It was while he was doing the church murals that then-freeholder George Muller got the idea that Jennis should paint the rich history of Hunterdon. The idea was pitched to the Hunterdon County Cultural and Heritage Commission and county historian, where County Historian Stephanie Stevens “and other members got excited about it.”
The idea gained momentum when Congressman Leonard Lance and Freeholder Matt Holt suggested the work be made into a portable print that could be taken around to the schools to be shown in conjunction with a talk about Hunterdon history.
The project was handed up to the Hunterdon County Tricentennial Committee, which has agreed to pay half the price of the commission, if donors could be found for the other half. Steve Kalafer of Flemington Car and Truck Country and Gary Hazard of Atrion led with way with generous donations. The gap is closing, donors are still being sought. When finished, the 105 square feet of canvas will hang in the main county library on Route 12.
Jennis said the Cultural and Heritage historians gave him 30 to 35 topics for each of the three centuries, but not all of them could be expressed visually.
As an illustrator, Jennis is used to dealing with input from large committees. He recalls with amusement that John Kuhl of the Cultural and Heritage Commission got an early look at the flintlock musket in the 1700s picture and said the trigger mechanism was wrong. Jennis fixed it.
Among the dozens of other images arranged in the 1700s painting are a variety of famous men, including Daniel Bray, who provided the boats Washington needed to cross the Delaware, and Washington himself, whose famous crossing brought him to what was then part of Hunterdon County, and such 18th-century bigwigs as Robert Hunter, John Witherspoon, William Paterson and William Livingston. You can also pick out the St. Thomas Episcopal Church of Alexandria Township, the Zion Lutheran Church of Oldwick, the Holcombe-Jimison farmhouse and Coryell’s ferry boat.
The 1800s picture has been designed, but only partially painted. Watch for the Deats plow, peaches, apples, the Sergeantsville covered bridge, the Union Hotel, the James Marshall House, the Oak Summit School in Kingwood Township, the old county courthouse, Civil War Gen. George Taylor, a canal lock, farm animals, a county fair poster, and, of course, the Red Mill.
The 1900s design is still a blank, but the unveiling isn’t until November 2014. So, confident he’ll meet the deadline, Jennis is taking life one century at a time.