Jackson Gregory

Jackson Gregory and his wife Joan Wye were the artists behind the Davis Square tiles mural

My wife, artist Joan Wye moved to Somerville from Cape Code in 1973 and began Belfast Bay Tileworks in late 1974. I joined her as a partner in the business in 1977. We were located at the Vernon Street Studios (Rogers Foam Corp. building) in Somerville and produced tiles there from 1974 until moving to Maine in 1990. We made tiles in Maine for another ten years but on a much smaller scale. We mostly made tiles for residential and commercial applications but did a number of public art projects as well.

We lived on the top floor of a triple decker at 223  Holland Street (the Teele Square end) for eight years, then at 26 Appleton Street for another five and finally four more years in our workshop at 20 Vernon Street before we moved to Maine in 1990. We became quite fond of Somerville which, at the time, was the old Somerville that so many of the "children" remember.  Our  rent at Holland Street was $160.00 a month! It was rent controlled at the time. Two of our octagenarian neighbors, Gus and Mabel Bormann, were the previous owners of the three triple decker complex where we lived. They remembered when that area was quite rural and had many pig farms! The even OLDER Somerville.

We were artists looking for cheap rent, as artists often do presaging the changes to come in so many neighborhoods. But the new Davis Square Station Red Line station was the real harbinger of change as is expressed so often in the accounts on [this] site. 

About 400 children participated by making drawings and, out of those, 249 were chosen for the mural. I spent about two weeks off and on at the school with the children. They drew on tile-sized pieces of paper and were allowed to do subject they wanted with the only restriction being - no copying of cartoon characters and no war/killing pictures. A couple of exceptions to that rule were allowed; someone drew a wonderful "Snoopy" and another drew a very benign looking warship with ( I think) big canonballs flying through the air  I didn't want to "guide" them and it wasn't necessary anyhow. They were most eager to help and went at it with few or no inhibitions. The art teacher helped enormously with keeping the children from bursting out with TOO much enthusiasm. Her name was Alicia Mitchell.

What prompted you to do the Davis Square tiles project?
There was a competition organized by the Cambridge Arts Council for a project called Arts On The Line calling for proposals of artwork for the new  Red Line. 

The Red Line committee wanted to know if we could come up with an idea that involved an element of the community.  The idea of working with children and children's art came up. We  hastily  created a few pseudo children's tiles to present to the judging committee. We didn't have time to create the real thing, and frankly, we weren't sure at the time just how we were going to do it. The tiles we made weren't so great. It's hard to imitate children. However, the idea of involving the community won over the judges and we we chosen to create the mural.

Admittedly, at the time we, would have preferred to have our "own" art chosen, but once the project got underway, it was immensely rewarding, not so much financially, but connecting with the kids was a great experience.

All of the children came from grades 1 to 6 (5 to 11 years old) at the Powderhouse Community School on Holland St. near Teele Square. Joan and I lived in Somerville for all of those years. First at 223 Holland St. in Teele Sq. ($160.00 a month!);  211R Holland St;  26 Appleton St.;  and for a time illegally at our workshop/studio, 20 Vernon St. 

Have you done other, similar projects?
Yes, we did three other projects with children's images on tile:
One was for the entrance/foyer of an elementary school in Cambridge.
Another was for a large exterior wall for the Home for Little Wanderers.
And one other mural about the same size as the Davis Sq. mural for the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority in Buffalo, NY.