Artists to create mural at Collegeville's Power House

This artist’s rendering shows the mural planned for the Collegeville Power House. Submitted photo

Their six original murals include the ones they’ve created for the Minerva D. Braemer Medical Arts Building at Einstein Medical Center Montgomery, Norriton Fire Engine Company 61 and Meadowood Senior Living community.

Now, with the colorful acrylics on the latter barely dry, Plymouth Meeting’s Susannah Hart Thomer and Trooper’s Michael Adams are already gearing up for collaboration number seven — a mural for one of the outdoor buttresses at Collegeville’s historic Power House. The local landmark at 45 First Ave. houses a popular Sunday antiques and collectibles market as well as a Saturday morning farmers market.

Members of the nonprofit Collegeville Economic Development Corp. are overseeing the mural project and estimate they’ll need some $5,000 to get things off the ground. Deborah Riegner, CEDC Design Committee chairwoman, explained the organization solicited proposals last fall and unanimously chose Thomer and Adams’ depiction of “A Journey through Time” for the installation. The duo’s visual rendering includes assorted historical elements, among them the Schrack log cabin.

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“They obviously did a lot of research before they put their proposal together, and we felt that the finished product was very authentic,” Riegner said.

Thomer and Adams have garnered similar praise for their previous murals, and the two bring impressive portfolios to all of their projects.

The Plymouth Meeting woman has won countless prizes for her watercolors, belongs to several watercolor societies and art leagues, and is represented in a number of art galleries in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware.

A highly regarded illustrator, designer, painter, sculptor and teacher, Adams is well-known for his work in the collectibles industry and has been a featured wildlife artist at the John James Audubon Gallery at Mill Grove Sanctuary.

Their Collegeville connections include participation in exhibits and special events at Ursinus College and the Community Music School.

“Most importantly … our mural will honor the history of Collegeville and its growth and importance in this area,” Thomer said. “An added bonus … its installation on one of the old stone structures that held up the train tracks that used to run through the town and made Collegeville so important to the area.”

As planned, the Thomer-Adams mural will be painted on Alumalite panels before being affixed to one of the stone monoliths at the Power House.

“It’s [a material] used a lot in outdoor signage and holds up better — we hope — in the weather,” Thomer explained.

The Power House was built by the former Schuylkill Valley Transit Co. around the turn of the 20th century.

“In the late 1800s, concrete buttresses were erected behind the Powerhouse building … to support train tracks for an industrial spur for the delivery of coal,” CEDC notes in its history of the site. “Cars were backed in, and the coal was dumped from the elevated tracks down into bins. The coal powered generators at the Powerhouse to produce electricity to help power the trolley line that ran from Philadelphia through Collegeville to Pottstown.

“In 1933, the trolleys were replaced by [buses], and W.H. Gristock’s Sons Coal, Lumber and Feed business took over the Power House. Now, in addition to coal, the railway cars delivered lumber, sand and feed for the Gristock’s supply business. After the trains stopped running in 1955, the train track fell into ruin, and only the concrete buttresses and Powerhouse building remained.”

The property is currently owned by sisters — and Collegeville natives — Janet McDonnell, Sue Gorski and Kathy Kratz. According to McDonnell, their father, Erv Shainline, bought the tract to house his lawn and garden business in 1970.

“Dad’s business was located on Mile Hill, but the state had confiscated the ground in that area for the Evansburg Dam Project … which never came to be,” she said. “He purchased the Power House property to relocate the business in 1970. It was a mess … so grown up with brush you couldn’t pull onto the property from [Route] 29, pigeons all over, a dirt floor … it was unbelievable. No electricity. No water. But Sue’s husband, Caesar, and his construction company — Gorski Construction — did a complete renovation.

“They added a second floor and put in two apartments … one for [our parents] and the other for a mechanic who worked in dad’s lawn and garden business. When dad died in 1985, my sisters and I began using the whole downstairs for the antiques and collectibles market [originally run by another relative]. Some people have had a booth there for 30 years. The farmers market has also been a good draw on Saturday mornings.”

Riegner and her CEDC colleagues hope the Thomer-Adams mural is the first in a series.

“The Perkiomen Trail goes right by that area, and our thought was to have these murals be a focal point along the trail … something that helps make people see Collegeville as a destination, not just a place they pass through,” she said.

CEDC volunteers will be soliciting donations for the project at the Power House’s Saturday morning farmers market. Contributions of $25 will include a chance on a signed, 18-by-24-inch artists’ proof of the Thomer-Adams’ mural. Plans are also in the works to sell additional artists’ proofs outright.

Additional information about the Power House mural and CEDC is available at www.collegevilledevelopment.org, by calling 610-454-1050 or at CEDC’s office at 476 E. Main St.