Renowned ceramic tile artist and former Westfield resident Stacey Farley created and donated more than a dozen tiles that tell the story of life in Westfield in the early 1900s.
Members of the Westfield Historical Society gathered Saturday morning for the unveiling of the tiles that frame the fireplace inside the former home of the Reeve family, which currently serves as The Reeve History and Cultural Resource Center on Mountain Avenue.
Farley, who has been making ceramic tile art for over 25 years, has had her work installed at train stations—including the Westfield station—museums, gardens and parks. The work of the artist, who holds a BA from Brown University and an MFA from the University of Illinois in Chicago, often reflects a bygone era and such is the case at The Reeve History and Cultural Resource Center.
Spending countless hours pouring over hundreds of photographs, Farley created a narrative that pays homage to a time and place in Westfield, using a timeless material – clay.
"My plan is that this will last for hundreds of years," said Farley, who noted that many times the only thing that withstands the test of time in an older building is the tilework. "I try to make it to last forever and I try to make it relevant to the site."
The tiles include a glimpse at Ralph Reeve, who grew up in the home which dates back to the 1870s, on horseback. Another tile displays a postcard from 1901. Above the fireplace, a panoramic tile depicts a large group of children in front of the Rialto Theatre.
"It was nice to find such a fabulous picture," said Farley, who added that is rare to find photos of women and children from that period in history.
Historical Society President Nancy Priest welcomed and thanked guests for attending the 11 a.m. unveiling. Priest said it was Lee Hale who first suggested contacting Farley, whom all deemed a "perfect match" for the project. Priest said Farley "graciously agreed" to undertake the endeavor, which the artist called "a pleasure."
Bette Jane Kowalski, Vice Chair of the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders, said it is wonderful to see the beautiful restoration work that has been done to the home over the past decade.
She added that the County was "pleased and proud" to have contributed its support through the Open Space, Recreation and Historic Preservation Trust Fund.
Historical Society curator Stan Lipson suggested that those who didn't want to crouch down to look at the tiles could view the photos they depict in the dining room via a digital picture frame.
Other recent improvements include the replacement of half the windows at The Reeve History and Cultural Resource Center, Priest said. The other half will be updated as soon as additional funding is procured.
"It's coming together little by little," said Priest, who added that the Historical Society hopes to construct an archives building on the property to house the artifacts that are currently stored at the Board of Education building.
Following the unveiling, guests were able to tour the home and enjoy refreshments.
Sherry Cronin, vice-president of the society, said upcoming events will offer the community a chance to learn more about the rich history of the building and the Reeve family, who resided in the home from 1906 until 2001.
A basement sale on Saturday, Feb. 25 will be held to raise money for the society's continuing efforts. Tours and exhibits will also be offered in March and April.
For more information, call 908-654-1794 or 908-654-1796 (Archives) or visit the organization's website.