VFW Post in Maple Shade gets an artist's touch

Artist Mary Barnett works on the mural at VFW Post 2445. She is enjoying the assignment: "People come up and talk to you when they see you working in public."
Artist Mary Barnett works on the mural at VFW Post 2445. She is enjoying the assignment: "People come up and talk to you when they see you working in public." (CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer)
Posted: June 23, 2014

The beige paint job on the exterior of VFW Post 2445 in Maple Shade had gone kind of tired, kind of old, so a small committee of members decided recently to go for something new. A nice light blue. Or so they thought.

A paint sample viewed indoors doesn't look the same under rays of a blazing, bright sun, they were to learn. The end result: a building that was too, too blue.

"If you were driving by, you would have thought you were going into the water or the sky," said Commander John Radie, better known as NY John. "It looked like the Smurfs attacked."

What to do? Well, it turned out one of the members had a sister who was a professional artist, Mary Barnett.

The remedy is still underway and likely to continue into this week, but so far it seems to be making all involved happy.

Using the blue as her background, Barnett is painting patriotic symbols such as the flag, an eagle, and the wounded-warrior emblem around the building, along with unifying elements of nature such as clouds, shrubs, and trees. The finished work will be a combination of content requested by Radie and her own touches.

"I love doing murals, big canvases," said Barnett, 56, who grew up in Moorestown and now lives in Mount Laurel.

A fine-arts major in college, Barnett said she has always done art and for the most part has made her living through art for the last 20 years.

Her first job out of college, she said, was painting the backdrop to the roller coaster at Atlantic City's storied Million Dollar Pier. The coaster was destroyed by fire in the early 1980s.

Since then, she has done other murals, ceiling work, portraits, painted furniture. Her work is in homes, offices, shops.

With a son born July 4, she is no stranger to patriotic themes, but she said she had never painted them on such a large scale before.

It gets noticed.

"I'm painting the flag, and I'm out on Main Street, and people are honking and saying, 'Yay!' " the artist said. "People really identify with these things."

And she enjoys working outside.

"People come and they talk to you when they see you working in public," she said. That alone gets honks, "or people will say, 'Good job!' "

"We had to do something about that blue," said Radie, 66.

In talking to Barnett about the project, he said he did not want the mural to glorify war, but rather carry the message that the battles are fought for peace.

The post had to get Town Council approval for the outdoor art, he said.

Blue or no blue, a mural was something the members had long talked about.

"We were thinking about putting a mural up for years," he said. "We made it come true."

Ironically perhaps, Radie went on vacation the day before Barnett got started. He won't see the finished mural in person until later in July. But a bartender at the post sent him a video.

"From what I saw on the video, it looks gorgeous," Radie said.


rgiordano@phillynews.com

856-779-3893 @ritagiordano

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