The Inspiration – Got Art Collaborations #1

As I mentioned in my last post, I am participating in a community art project called Got Art Collaborations.  This project is giving me a chance to experiment with different artistic media, some that I have never tried before and some that I haven’t thought about in years.  Through the project, I am also getting to meet many talented people from New Jersey and the surrounding area.  I’ve never participated in anything like this before, and I’m especially excited to be a part of the group’s inaugural project.

Andy Maskell, the man who started Got Art Collaborations, took the time to give me some inside information about his inspiration and the reasons behind why he started this project.

“For as long as I can remember,” Maskell says, “I’ve always liked what other people could produce artistically better than what I could do on my own.  I’ve never thought of myself as a particularly creative or artistic person.  In high school as a senior I took freshman level art as a graduation requirement.  After the first few weeks the teacher could sense my discomfort (and likely my lack of ability) and allowed me to mostly slide by unnoticed.  After college I travelled a bit, and started writing stories about my encounters and sharing those stories through email to my friends and family.   I got a lot of positive feedback, and I suppose that was the first time I took pride in something I was able to create.  But I’ve gone incredibly long stretches without creating anything, and when it comes to aesthetics I feel like a dancer with lead boots on.”

Lead boots or not, Maskell knows what it is to be inspired.  He says, “The complete experience of that inspiration is impossible to describe, but essentially I connected to a work of art in a way that I never had before.  It was a single moment that I can point to that dramatically changed my thinking.  Looking back on that moment, I wanted to construct an art project that told the story of that moment, that single inspiration.  And I thought it was appropriate to tell the same story through as many different media types as possible – sculpture, painting, poetry, song, interpretive dance, etc.  The problem was, I had limited ability to create, I knew I would be mostly unsatisfied with anything I could produce myself, and even if I was able to produce what I wanted I had no idea what to actually do with it.  I knew I needed some help.”

Not exactly sure what kind of help he needed, Maskell began actively seeking artists over the next several weeks.  When his path eventually crossed with Priscilla Algava, something clicked. Maskell describes the synergy of their first meeting by saying, “After I explained my inspiration and my intentions for a project, it was actually her idea to bring multiple people together and create a community based project.  Once she planted that seed, the idea grew.”

Andy Maskell presents his idea for to a group of artists and friends.

Andy Maskell presents his idea for the project to a group of curious artists and friends.

Maskell and Algava began to reach out to artists and others who they thought would appreciate this type of project.  Approximately  30-35 people attended the initial meeting, and about  20 asked to remain in contact.  “I’m not sure how many people will actually stay involved through the final project,” Maskell says, “but I’m extremely happy with the turnout and enthusiasm so far.  It is absolutely incredible to me to hear others share with me their ideas for the project.  The fact that I essentially am having my own thoughts reflected back to me after being filtered through another person’s brain is a totally unique feeling.”

As far as what specifically is inspiring him to create his own art these days or what type of art he is creating for the show, Maskell isn’t saying.  All along, Maskell has intentionally tried to keep aspects of the project secret.  He has found that curious people become enthusiastic people, and he wants people to be enthusiastic about art.   “I recognized that cultivating an air of mystique is a healthy way to generate a crowd.”  Additionally, Maskell hopes that the project, because it is a collaborative effort, will evolve and change over time and says, “I don’t want to set expectations or ideas that will end up being changed before the final revealing.”

“I am not an artist,” Maskell insists.  “I don’t have any special talents or magical knowledge.  Organizing this group is a step way outside the routines of my life.  It has taken a significant amount of my time and energy to get the ball rolling, and once I push it down the hill I have no idea of the exact direction it will go.  But I’m really looking forward to watching the development and being part of something bigger than myself.”

I, too, am thankful for the opportunity to be a part of this project.  I will bring you more information and details as they are revealed.

Stay curious and stay enthused — more art is on the way!

The Jersey Girl

A return to blogging: The Jersey Girl comes home…to her blog!

School is out for the summer, and I am excited to blog again!

The first of many wonderful NJ projects I have in the works right now is a community art project called Got Art Collaborations.  I got involved with the art project a few weeks ago.  The shortened version of the story is that a good friend of mine, Andy Maskell, decided that he wanted to put together a community of artists all creating different kinds of art around a centralized theme.  Andy’s story and his inspiration for the project is pretty cool, and I will certainly share that with you in the near future.

In the mean time…

I can’t tell you what the theme of the project is…

I can’t tell you what kind of art I’m creating…

and I can’t tell you where the event will be held…

But I can tell you that the experience is already fabulous.  Along the way, I hope to document my role in the project and also share the stories of the other artists and mentors with whom I’m working.

Once the date and location of the art  show is announced, I will share that too.  🙂

The Jersey Girl

Today, I’m Thankful for Thomas Wesley Stern

In the morning, I usually enjoy a nice commute to work along Route 1.  I head southbound, drinking my coffee and listening to the radio.  The entire trip usually takes about 20 minutes.  It’s just long enough to listen to a good song or two and get my mind prepared for the full day ahead of me.

This morning, however, there was a lot of construction, and the entire right lane was closed off for a pretty good part of my trip.  Traffic was stopped for a while.  Barely moving for a while.  Stopped for a little while longer.  The 20 minute trip took closer to 50 minutes today!  The entire time, all I could think about were the dozens of papers sitting on my desk at school, all of the emails that I needed to reply to, and whether or not I’d have to call in and let them know I’d be late.  I absolutely thought I was going to lose my mind sitting there in the traffic.

To make it worse, the local radio stations were a) not coming in clearly and were full of static, b) playing commercials, or c) talk, talk, talking – and I didn’t know what they were talking about.  (This is the point in the morning when I missed having satellite radio and made a mental note to look into subscribing once again.) Right before I lost all of my patience, I remembered that I had a few CDs in the player…one of them was Hope Folk by Thomas Wesley Stern (a band from right here in NJ).

I flipped from AM/FM to CD mode on the radio and immediately my mood lightened.  I sang along to “Fish” and “Hello, Hello” and the traffic didn’t really matter anymore.

Lost in the world of Thomas Wesely Stern’s upbeat music and clever lyrics, I was able to enjoy my morning commute after all.

So today, I am thankful for this:

~Melissa 🙂
The Jersey Girl

April is Poetry Month, after all…

So difficult to choose a favorite!




I had some extra-special treats to share with coworkers at lunch yesterday; I brought goodies from the Palermo Bakery and Monday night’s Sweet Sioree event at 4Sixty6, in West Orange, into work.  (As much as I love desserts, there was no way I could sample all of these delicious treats myself!)  We loved everything, but I think the red velvet with cream cheese frosting was my favorite.

Monday night, the club known as “NJ’s Vegas” was packed with brides and wedding industry professionals as they mingled about and sampled a seemingly endless supply of cakes and pastries from the Ridgefield Park bakery.

Though the event on Monday was catered toward brides (no pun intended, really!) Palermo’s is available to make their custom cakes for any occasion, even sporting events!  You can visit their website and blog for pictures and ideas. Palermo’s services the greater New York and New Jersey area, and they’ve most recently made special cakes for members of the Jersey Shore cast.

I don't know how any bride could not feel just like a princess with this gorgeous cake!




I’m heading over to the Zimmerli Art Museum in New Brunswick for a timely event called Poetry & Comedy Night.  April is Poetry Month, after all, so why not celebrate it and have a few laughs at the same time?

The evening will include a meet and great with authors, poetry readings, a curator-lead tour of the museum, stand-up comedy showcase, complimentary refreshments, and a 20% discount off of purchases made at the museum store.  Tickets for non-Rutgers employees and students are $6, Rutgers employees and students are free.

This event is one of many in the museum’s Art After Hours series.  For more information, you can visit their website.


Looks pretty quiet tomorrow.  I’m planning on a quiet evening of take-out food and will hopefully catch up on some movie watching.  Maybe I’ll finally get to see some of the Academy Award wining/nominated films from this year.  That would be great!

Cakes and more cakes from Palermo's.

Any recommendations?
The Jersey Girl

Tom Brislin is back in New Jersey this week!


Tom Brislin, a native New Jersey musician, songwriter and producer is currently living in Nashville to work on his music, but he is back New Jersey for a limited time!

For many years, Brislin was known as part of the NJ-based indie-rock band, Spirling, and now he is recording a solo album and performing solo gigs.  He performed last night at the Barron Arts Center in Woodbridge, and I was lucky enough to get reservations for the “sold out” performance.  Brislin describes his music as, “pop songs with special features” and has worked with legendary artists like Yes, Debbie Harry, Meat Loaf, OK Go, Josh Kelley, Renaissance, Glen Burtnik, and many others.  The house at the Barron Arts Center was packed, and dedicated fans, as well as new ones like me, enjoyed a lively and thoughtful show.

Brislin’s music is available on YouTube and he will be performing one more show here in NJ before he leaves to go back to Nashville again for a while; you can check him out this Friday, April 8th, at the Rockin’ Joes in Kendall Park.


I’m taking it easy today…Trying to get caught up with paperwork and email and maybe, just maybe, actually make it over to the gym.  It looks gorgeous outside and as soon as I can peel myself away from this computer, I’m going to get out there and enjoy the nice weather!


The Jersey Shore Restaurant Week fun continues for me with the Great Jersey Shore Martini Contest at The Mill in Spring Lake Heights.  It’s an afternoon event, and tickets are $40 at the door ($30 if you get them in advance).  They’re boasting that along with the martini samples, there will be “martini food” to taste; I’m looking forward to find out exactly what that means!

Enjoy your Saturday.

The Jersey Girl

A Birthday Gift For My Nephew

Creative Letter Art made especially for my nephew!

It’s lucky for me that my nephew (who will be four next month) isn’t yet reading this blog.  If he was, I wouldn’t be able to show you the gift I purchased for him at the Sugarloaf Craft Festival from Creative Letter Art!

I thought this collage of photographs depicting different style letters would be the perfect gift for him since he’s learned his letters in pre-school and is beginning to recognize words – names especially.  Creative Letter Art has many pre-made portraits available with a wide variety of themes to choose from.  There’s everything from fun and bright neon to subdued black and white nature scenes to the dramatic lines of architecture.

With owner of Creative Letter Art, Ethan Reiss. (photo by Jeffrey Morris)

Owner and photographer, Ethan Reiss, was inspired to begin his Rockaway, NJ business because of his own personal experiences with wanting to show those he loved how much he cared in a unique and meaningful way.  His personal journey of expressing his own feelings through words and images has led to a business which now allows any of us, no matter how much artistic talent or creativity, the opportunity to present our loved ones with a gift that reflects just how much we care about them.  (Sadly though, my photography here doesn’t do the collage for my nephew justice at all!)  In person, the collage is truly breathtaking and I can’t wait to give it to him next month.

You can take my word for it, or you can see the images in better detail on the Creative Letter Art website and facebook page.

My new Simon Xianwen Zeng purchase is the one on the left.

I also picked up a few small things for myself at Sugarloaf this time around.  (It’s hard not to find something – or many things – I want to take home there!)  At a time when so much of what we buy is made in other countries, it felt especially good to know that my purchases were directly supporting people who live and work here in the United States.

The last time I was at the show, I purchased a print from artist Simon Xianwen Zeng.  This time around, I picked up another print to go with it.  I’m thinking though, that these two prints look a little lonely and I might have to make this a grouping of three.  What do you think???  I also picked up another small print from Milltown, NJ resident, John DeAmicis and a beautiful hand sewn bag to use as a camera case.

My new camera case!

The second piece in my John DeAmicis collection.

I might just have to add the new print by Simon Xianwen Zeng to a long list because I’ve already got my eye on other items (like a hand-woven basket from Wanda Summers of Wood Weaving) that I’m planning to get in the fall when the Sugarloaf Craft Festival is back here in Somerset.

They’ll be here October 28, 29, & 30th.

And I’ll be sure to remind you about it when it gets closer!

Shopping for some art at the Sugarloaf Craft Festival in the far left of this pic... (photo by Jeffrey Morris)

The Jersey Girl

100th Post: 100% Picture Perfect Sunday!

This afternoon on Super Bowl Sunday, we get to enjoy some warm(er) weather here in New Jersey.  I spent some time earlier today in Rahway and visited the “Close Encounters” art exhibit at the Arts Guild New Jersey.  (It was fascinating, and we’ll have some info about it on Notes on the State of New Jersey very soon!)

The sun has been out all day and it’s melted away some of the snow and ice, making for nice driving conditions.  (Just in time too, because it looks like a few more storms are headed our way this week.)

Melissa Morris Snow

Taking in the snow in New Jersey, while we have it.

Though we keep saying that we’re sick of the snow and ready for spring, I think it’s important to appreciate the beauty of winter while it’s here. This is a favorite photo of mine from the last snow storm we had…

Now, off to go watch the Super Bowl (and all the fun commercials)!

The Jersey Girl

Hooked on New Jersey

Top Row Left to Right: Melissa Morris, Ilse Vliet, Lydia Lewis, Kathy Donovan, Janet Keller Laughlin, and Linda Rae Coughlin (curator) Bottom Row Left to Right, Janet Santaniello (curator), Susan Johnson, Dee Rosebrock, and Debbie Walsh

To show their appreciation for the Garden State, many talented women from New Jersey, and the surrounding area, have displayed their New Jersey-themed artwork in a special exhibit at The Barron Arts Center in Woodbridge, NJ.  This exhibit, Hooked on New Jersey, is unique because each piece of art is a handcrafted, hooked rug.

Yes, rug.  A rug like the ones you are familiar with on the floors in your homes.  However, these particular rugs have been specially designed and carefully crafted to celebrate the fabulous state of New Jersey.  They truly are works of art and collectively make up one of the more enjoyable shows I’ve been to in a while.

Kathleen Donovan and The Jersey Devil

Kathleen Donovan’s rug called THE JERSEY DEVIL was selected to appear on the promotional materials for the exhibit.   The Watchung, NJ resident says, “I have always had an interest and love of animals.  That interest crosses over to include animals in mythology and folklore.  We in New Jersey are lucky to have one well-known creature of folklore (or maybe not) the Jersey Devil.”   I was lucky enough to meet Donovan, who has been hooking rugs for 10 years, and chat with her a little bit about her artwork.  She hopes that her portrayal of the Jersey Devil will make people think of him as a graphic novel hero.  I can certainly see it!

Linda Woodbury's Lucy.

LUCY the elephant is a Jersey girl with whom many of us are familiar, but here, depicted by Linda Woodbury of Glen Ridge, NJ, we see her in a brand-new way.  Woodbury says, “Lucy has been an iconic symbol of the Jersey Shore throughout my life.  When I signed up for a class hooking ‘Women with Attitudes’ Lucy was a natural choice for a rug.  She does project great attitude, where she stands at the edge of the sand looking out over the Atlantic Ocean.  Lucy is visible from 8 miles out at sea, making New Jersey the only coastline in the world marked by a six-story high elephant shaped navigational aid.”

Cynthia Boult's New Jersey Vanity Plates

Cynthia Boults of Annandale, NJ designed her rug VANITY PLATE (along with the help of the NJ DOT!) after NJ’s license plate that reminds everyone – just in case they forget – that we are the Garden State.  Boults shares a little about why she was inspired to hook a rug with this design, “I moved to New Jersey in 2004…proudly put a Garden State license plate on my fire engine red farm truck!  This truly is the Garden State.”

Janet Keller Laughlin and symbols of New Jersey

Some of the artists have been hooking rugs for years, and others like Janet Keller Laughlin from Hopewell, NJ, have just gotten started.  Laughlin’s first rug design, HARMONY ALONG the DELAWARE, was adapted from her own original black and white illustration.  It took her over a year to complete, but the result is simply beautiful.  Of her rug, Laughlin says, “My rug design depicts the harmonious coexistence of New Jersey’s flora and fauna.  The “Trenton Makes the World Takes” bridge is the backdrop for the bucolic spring garden that features our state symbols…the red oak tree, the violet, the goldfinch, and the honeybee.  This illustration was the logo for the 2008 Garden Club of America Zone IV flower show held in Trenton, NJ.”

There are dozens of other beautiful rugs that I’d love to share with you, but you’re going to have to head over to Woodbridge and see them for yourself!  The Hooked on New Jersey exhibition, co-curated by Linda Rae Coughlin and Janet Santaniello, will run until October 24th.  Exhibit hours are 11am to 4pm Monday through Friday and 2pm to 4pm on the weekends.

Go check it out and (if you aren’t already) get hooked on NJ too!

The Jersey Girl

Picture Perfect: Sunset Sundays

A few months ago (a little while after The Jersey Girl site was up and running), I came across a really fun blog called Stay Adventurous, written by Craig Zabransky.  Zabransky broke into the travel writing scene back in 2005 and then made travel writing his full-time work in 2009.  He started the blog as a place to publish pieces that he didn’t print in other publications and to share some of his personal experiences – experiences gained from traveling over 40 states and 30 countries.  (And I’m sure those numbers will grow soon!)

A favorite feature of mine on the Stay Adventurous blog is what Zabransky calls Sunset Sunday.  His photographs of sunsets from around the world are peaceful and hypnotic.   Because I subscribe to his blog, I usually receive a notification email on Sundays – just as I am wrapping up my weekend; a beautiful sunset is a great opportunity to reflect while making the transition from the weekend back into the week.  Each photograph is an opportunity for a mini-vacation!

When asked why he began the Sunset Sunday feature, Zabransky says, “It seems that everyone can enjoy a sunset, and everyone can recall certain sunsets from a childhood or even that dream vacation. I have many. And as I travel, I always take a pause at sunset. It slows, seduces, and surprises.  Plus, I always thought it is the best and most beautiful time of the day. Perfect light. And a time filled with positive memories, a time we should focus on (that love, that positivity). With my blog I can promote that each and every week.”

Inspired by Zabransky, I plan to feature beautiful New Jersey photographs (including plenty of sunsets) taken by a variety of talented photographers.  Next Sunday will be our first.

In the mean time, take a few minutes to visit the Stay Adventurous site and travel through some of Zabransky’s inspiring sunsets for yourself.

One of my favorite Sunset Sunday photos by Craig Zabransky. His original caption for this photo reads "typical sunset in the (upper) Florida Keys"


The Jersey Girl

Sunset Sunday Links:
Stay Adventurous
Zabransky’s first Sunset Sunday post
Stay Adventurous on Twitter