There is a new addition to the Bordentown Beach scenery: a mural on a 40-foot shipping container.
Local artist Marlon Davila started on the project in late May and plans to complete the mural—his largest yet—by July 4. The container will hold a new fleet of kayaks and canoes managed by the D&R Greenway Land Trust.
Residents have been able to go down to the river and see the mural’s progress over the last month, which Davila describes as being broken into three sections: nature, the river and environmental awareness.
Working with acrylic paints outdoors, Davila can be found painting in good weather, blending vibrant colors and bringing the landscape to life.
Locals frequently visit him at his workspace to inquire about the mural and see its day-to-day progress.
“For the most part, there’s people that just stop by to congratulate me and just to say how beautiful it is and how they’re so happy to see something so bright and cheerful and colorful in the park,” Davila said.
Having the river as his office space is a dream come true, he said.
This mural—his third—is Davila’s first foray outside of Mercer County, as his art career began in Princeton. His first mural is located on the corner of John Street and Leigh Avenue, “Journey,” and the other is an untitled mural in the office building of Axiom Healthcare Strategies on Hulfish Street in Princeton.
The Bordentown Beach mural is inspired by first and second-generation high school students from the Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund youth program FUTURO. About 30 high school juniors from Trenton, Princeton and Lawrence were involved early on in the process of planning the mural.
“The connection with LALDEF…really took it in what I think was a really enthusiastic and community-building direction that went even further than I ever imagined,” CEO and president of D&R Greenway Linda Mead said.
The collaboration between D&R Greenway’s project and LALDEF was orchestrated by Nadeem Demian, who worked a year-long fellowship with D&R Greenway since last July.
The community conservation fellow took charge on the project and moved forward with the connection with LALDEF by setting up workshops for the students and mural artist to interact.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the students were able to meet with Davila and D&R Greenway once in person. The children were presented with information about the Delaware River and its resources.
The water activities and educational programs that D&R Greenway purposed the shipping container and watercraft for were discussed as ways of bringing people closer to the natural environment.
Students were asked to create artwork that described their interpretation of the river and sharing awareness about its environmental resources.
“It really took on a whole new dimension above and beyond just talking about water quality but talking about culture as well,” Mead said. “And how does culture have an impact on how you look at things and which things interests you, as you look at a new place.”
Along with the one in-person meeting, two virtual meetings were held over Zoom in April and May.
“Once the kids submitted their projects, I went ahead and I printed them out and I cut them out individually,” Davila said. “So I basically started out as, ‘OK, this is their drawings and I’m going to create a collage.’”
FUTURO program manager Tulia Jimenez-Vergara said Davila, who is a first-generation American from Guatemala, is a wonderful role model for the students.
Working on the mural and presenting their individual art projects, during the middle of a pandemic, was a learning moment for all the students, Jimenez-Vergara said.
“I think it is important that we expose them a little bit more and make it part of their understanding that they come to a community and that they have to learn about it,” she said. “And they are part of the future decisions about preserving certain areas and taking care of our resources.”
Getting the students deeply involved with the outcome of the mural was a task Demian took very seriously—patiently working with LALDEF in coordinating through the pandemic. He saw the mural as an opportunity to increase the access to green spaces for the Latinx community.
“I’m over the moon with all the things that we’ve accomplished over the past few months through the pandemic, and making these connections, that I think D&R Greenway will really value in the future,” Demian said.
The kayaks and canoes are part of an educational program that D&R Greenway sought grant funding for.
Through a $20,000 grant from the William Penn Foundation, in Philadelphia, D&R Greenway moved forward with its plans to bring water sports to the Delaware River access point at the foot of Park Street in Bordentown.
The coming Kayak Education Program left a decision to be made on where to keep the new water sport supplies. This opened up an opportunity for creativity and collaboration with the City of Bordentown, the Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund and local fine artist, Marlon Davila.
With no other kayak or canoe livery in Bordentown or nearby, Bordentown Beach provided an advantageous place for the new fleet. The watercraft will allow for up to 18 people out on the water at once.
The grant funding purchased the watercraft, shipping container and hired the mural artist. Looking towards the end of the pandemic, D&R Greenway intends to use its funding to hire teachers for their educational program from local organizations, one being the SPLASH Steamboat Floating Classroom.
The first excursion out on the water has been planned for the LALDEF students who were involved with the mural, which has been safely planned for a later date in late August or September.