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Tricentennial’s epic mural unveiled by Gov. Christie Whitman

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 RARITAN TWP. — Two years of work reaped a harvest of praise on the evening of Wednesday, Nov. 19, at the unveiling of the Hunterdon County Tricentennial mural by Raritan Township artist Paul Jennis. It consists of three canvases, each one devoting 5-by-7 feet of space to one century.

The unveiling and the reception that followed took place at the main Hunterdon County Library, where the mural will be on permanent display in a yet-to-be-determined location.

Jennis’ effort was praised in brief remarks by Marcia Karrow, chair of the Tricentennial Committee; county historian Stephanie Stevens; Freeholder John King; and former Gov. Christie Whitman, whose likeness is included on the 20th-century panel (technically 1900-2014).

Jennis was gratified that Whitman attended the unveiling and was impressed that she noticed some of the devices he’d employed to give continuity to the three-panel design. Those touches include the use of circular shapes in the background, such as a wagon wheel in the 1700s, a peach and a cog in the 1800s, and hot-air balloons in the 1900s. The pervading yellow-orange background color was inspired by the color of the Declaration of Independence parchment in the first pane, says Jennis.

Once he started thinking about the project, he knew two things right off — that in the lower left corner a portrait of George Washington and the crossing of the Delaware (in 1776 Mercer County had not yet been chopped out of Hunterdon) would anchor the left side, and that Charles Lindbergh would anchor the right side.

He said Lindbergh’s portrait is his favorite element of the mural. Tragic as the Lindbergh case was, it looms large in history. “I’m from Westfield,” he said, “and when you mention the Lindbergh trial to people who aren’t from here, they say, ‘Oh! Yeah!’” because they have heard about it. Jennis also likes his portrait of Civil War Gen. George Taylor. “I like to paint the faces,” he says.

The mural is based on possible subjects suggested to Jennis by local historians and he picked the ones — about a hundred of them — that would work well on canvas.

He said the Lindbergh picture got a lot of good reviews at the reception, as did the 19th-century locomotive and the George Washington portrait.

What was the most challenging? Anything at the bottom of the canvases, he says. He paints with the canvas in a vertical position, and the ceiling height in his home only gave him enough clearance to lift the panels a foot off the floor, so he worked in an awkward position.

He also noted that he had to work hard to subdue the bright colors of the Interstate 78 sign on the third panel, so it wouldn’t unbalance the picture. Stevens perhaps wished the sign and the highway itself would disappear entirely. In a lecture that followed the reception, Stevens said, “Route 78 ruined us! It opened up this county like nothing before.”

In Jennis’ studio, a few of the historians had been given a chance to pick up a paintbrush and “put a couple of strokes in here and there,” he said. But he also accorded that privilege to Bob Wise, CEO of Hunterdon Healthcare, who has been very supportive of Jennis’ work. “He really knew what he was doing,” says Jennis, and Wise spent about 15 minutes applying the second layer of paint on the side of Hunterdon Medical Center. Wise was at the reception, happy to see his hospital in the center of the third panel.

The work was funded with private donations, money from the Hunterdon County Cultural and Heritage Commission and with money raised by the Tricentennial Committee.

Jennis, who is somewhat depleted by the two-year project, was a little dismayed that the question most people asked him was: What are you going to do next? In fact, he is working on a few commissioned portraits, and soon he’ll be ready for the next big thing.

February 3rd, 2016|Categories: News|0 Comments

County’s history captured in oils

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 RARITAN TWP. — “It’s a legacy-type piece for me,” says Paul Jennis of the three 5-by-7-foot pictures he is painting in oils for Hunterdon County’s Tricentennial. He knocked out the first one, covering the 1700s, in seven or eight months, working on it almost full-time, and he’s got a good start on the 1800s. The final picture will have to cover 114 years.

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.

February 3rd, 2016|Categories: News|0 Comments

10-Foot Hunterdon Landscapes Aim To Comfort

10-Foot Hunterdon Landscapes Aim To Comfort

February 2nd, 2012|Categories: All, News|0 Comments

Local Artist Contributes To Patient Well-being

Local Artist Contributes To Patient Well-being

January 29th, 2012|Categories: All, News|0 Comments

New Murals For Medical Center’s ER

The Emergency Department at Hunterdon Medical Center is now home to two murals painted by artist Paul Jennis of Raritan Township. The hospital decided that beautiful scenes of Hunterdon, like the Red Mill in Clinton and a river view of Lambertville in winter, would benefit patients in a time of trauma and hurt. On Tuesday, Mr. Jennis hung two of the four murals now on view near the central nurses’ station in the emergency room. The theme for the commissioned works, he said, was ‘a time to heal in a place for all seasons’. Summer and fall scenes are planned for 2010. Each painting is 3-by-10-feet long.

Article that appeared in Hunterdon County Democrat:

Article in Hunterdon County Democrat

September 14th, 2008|Categories: All, News|Tags: |0 Comments

The Broad Brush

Paul Jennis recently spent six months to complete each of two murals in the renovated basement of the Church of St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi in Flemington —reproductions of The Crucifixion, by Renaissance artist Pietro Perugino, and The Pentecost, by 18th-century neoclassicist Jean Restout.

No matter that the artist is Jewish; Jennis, 45, of Raritan Township, later brought his rabbi to see his work. “He didn’t jump for joy,” Jennis says, “but he still had some very nice comments.”

These days Jennis is working on murals at two South Jersey churches. “I hope this will lead to work in other institutions, like more churches, hospitals, and courthouses,” he says, “maybe even temples.” To view more of his work, visit www.pauljennis.com.

Article by Rema Rahman in New Jersey Monthly

The Broad Brush - Article in New Jersey Monthly

February 8th, 2008|Categories: All, News|Tags: |0 Comments

A Gubernatorial Hanging

It took him a lifetime to get it, but artist Paul Jennis finally landed his dream job.

“It’s like making the all-star team of the art world,” Jennis says of his recent commission to paint former governor Richard Codey’s official portrait. The painting, to be formally unveiled next month, will hang in the Statehouse alongside other portraits of past governors.

Codey, who still serves as Senate President, insisted on choosing a New Jersey artist to render his likeness for posterity. Jennis got the nod, Codey says, because of the artist’s “interesting idea” for the portrait. The painting shows Codey standing beside a stained-glass window, a beam of light illuminating the former governor’s face. “It was completely different from all the other portraits of governors hung in the Statehouse and different from the ideas of the other artists,” Codey says.

“The concept is to have the light of New Jersey shining upon him,” says Jennis, who painted the portrait from digital photos he took. “It is more than just a representation. I wanted to capture his openness.”

Jennis, 46, who lives in Raritan Township, has created both high- and low-brow art, painting landscapes and religious murals as well as Gone with the Wind–themed images that were embossed on collectible dishware and sold on TV. He attributes his success as much to his marketing skills as to his artistic interests. “To be successful in this business,” he says, “you really need both.”

Article appeared in New Jersey Monthly:

A Gubernatorial Hanging article in New Jersey Monthly

Portrait Unveiled

Article appeared in the Hunterdon Observer:

Portrait Unveiled

Governor’s Portrait Unveiled

Article appeared in The Hunterdon County Democrat:

Governor's Portrait Unveiled

Pose And Prose For Posterity

Article appeared in The New York Times:

Pose And Prose For Posterity