The unassuming Jiffy Lube building tucked across the street from Harford Mall recently received a face-lift from a group of art students from the John Carroll School. The Tollgate Road Jiffy Lube has been open for the past 36 years, and recently the owners were looking for a way to thank the community that has supported the business for so long, and the idea for a mural took life.
“I got the idea from seeing these things all over the countryside,” said Dick Tracy, who co-owns the business. “So, I had the idea and thought I’d like to do something like this. When I talked to my business partner Bob [Falter], who was on the board at John Carroll at the time, he suggested asking the art department at the school if they would be involved.”
Tracy stood in the parking area looking over his shoulder at the giant letters on the side of the building. After some back and forth on design, colors and discussion on location for the mural, the plan to have a postcard-themed piece featuring local landmarks to celebrate Bel Air and Harford County was set in motion.
Tracy was one of the earliest franchisees in the Jiffy Lube system, long before it was the nationally recognized brand it has become. The team has employed thousands of local residents over the years and serviced more than 750,000 vehicles at the Bel Air location.
“When he decided he wanted to thank this community that he loves, the idea of the mural that would include local landmarks that most Harford County residents could identify, and we reached out to John Carroll,” Falter said in a recent email about the project.
Plans were initiated before the COVID hit and had to be put on hold. With restrictions loosening, the art teachers at John Carroll had been trying to figure out ways for students to have their own parts incorporated into the mural’s theme. Students in the John Carroll Honors and AP Studio art classes were invited to submit design ideas for each of the 5-foot-tall letters spelling out “Bel Air” in a contest.
After Tracy and Falter chose their favorite designs, six students (Alyssa Kopp, McKenna Smith, Gabbi Meyer, Sierra Simmons, Ramona Lavarias, and Tori Novak) became letter captains. With each student responsible for a budget of $200 for supplies and charged with working with about 30 other art students with the National Art Honor Society, the budding artists brought their designs to life.
“It was so exciting to see my design become real life on a wall that so many people will get to see,” Kopp said in an email. “I also loved being able to help volunteers bring my design to life and to see their excitement while creating the mural.”
For the students, working on a large concrete wall was different than their other projects and presented more of a challenge.
“I hadn’t had any mural experience before this, so it was kind of hard to adjust to the new type of surface and working with just the overall size of it.” said Lavarias, a John Carroll junior who was responsible for the letter “A” featuring Rockfield Manor. “It was kind of hard seeing it as a whole while we were working, so I had to frequently get off the scaffolding and step back, and I found that it looked different from afar than it did up close. So there were things that we had to change like the proportions and things like that.”
Simmons who was responsible for the letter “I,” faced similar challenges with her choice of the Cultural Arts Center Heart located at the Mary E. W. Risteau building in Bel Air.
“Drawing the actual heart was a little tough because it wasn’t like a building with straight lines; it’s curved! So, I had to do it about four times drawing it freehand,” Simmons said while standing near her letter on the wall and reflecting on her experience. “I’m proud of it. Every time I have someone on my car, we make the drive by here to see it.”
The students faced a variety of challenges and succeeded with a support group of teachers and others who helped them overcome the obstacles and produce a quality project that made them proud.
Sam DiMeo, an art teacher and former John Carroll student, was part of the support team.
“I kind of came in at the tail end of this, but it was really cool,” DiMeo said. “I have a lot of mural experience from previous jobs, so it was nice to apply some of those skills here to help the students. It was a very overwhelming idea for the students at first, but once we got here, got the scaffolding up and started, it was much easier than I think we anticipated. I think originally we planned for four days but it only took us two.”
“I think it was really impressive because none of us had any mural experience in the past,” Smith, a senior, said. “I don’t know about anyone else, but when we first started it was very intimidating, but it was a really good learning experience and we made a lot of friends during the process. And now, to look at it now as a whole, finished, makes me feel very proud and happy.”
“I’m very pleased with the way this thing worked out, those kids did a wonderful job. It really looks great!” said a smiling Tracy as he stood admiring the project. The mural is located on the southern side of the building and features more local landmarks like the Bel Air Reckord Armory, the courthouse fountain as well as black-eyed Susans.