Savin Hill resident James Hobin, one of Dorchester’s most celebrated resident artists, is leading a new project aimed at installing a mural depicting scenes from the life of Christ set in modern-day Dorchester.
The mural, which will be designed to look like a large, stained-glass window, will eventually be installed on the side of the Cristo Rey Boston school on Savin Hill Avenue. Hobin has spent the last year working with students from the school in cooperation with Cristo Rey Boston’s art instructor, Jessica Edwards.
Individual panels from the mural have been collected in a new 2013 calendar that is being sold by the school through local businesses. The $10 calendars are available at Savin Scoop, Kennedy Cleaners, and McKenna’s.
Most of the images represent familiar Biblical stories, but all are set in a decidedly Dorchester frame, using three- deckers, the expressway, and Dot Ave. as backdrops.
“The whole concept for this project is to show the events of Christ’s life as they take place in Dorchester,” says Hobin. “In art, that’s a real tradition, to create renderings of Christ in contemporary settings. We’re plugging into that tradition and the response has been really amazing. When people see that image of Christ being baptized at Savin Hill Beach, when you put those two things together, people really react to it. There’s a potency to the images presented in this setting.”
Students led the creative process, Hobin said, generating more than 400 drawings based on discussions in class and photographs of the neighborhood. “I worked with the kids in the classroom to develop the imagery. I already had a general idea of what the images might be and then the kids would come in with photographs. Some of the kids got really good at it.”
“Most of the kids are Christian and most are very serious about going to church,” Hobin noted. “They understood these stories and they saw this as being important work to make these images and contribute to the spirituality of the community. We’re not trying to convert anyone, but we’re trying to talk about the life of Christ and the story we know about him.”
Hobin attended grammar school in the Cristo Rey building, which was formerly home to St. William’s parish school. Cristo Rey Boston, which relocated to Savin Hill from North Cambridge in 2010, is also a Catholic school.
“People in the neighborhood are glad it stayed as a school,” said Hobin. “It’s good for the community to have these kids doing what they do. I came down and offered to teach a painting course and they already had a very good art program. The school’s principal, Jeff Thielman, asked him to lead the mural project instead. Hobin had already completed a collaborative mural project at the Nathan Hale School in Roxbury, which was installed on an exterior wall of the schoolyard in November 2011.
Hobin is best-known locally for his mural depicting Native American life in pre-colonial Dorchester. That sepia-toned artwork was installed on the side of McKenna’s Café in 2000. He has also created lithographs depicting scenes of neighborhood life that now grace panels on the platform at the Savin Hill T station.
Hobin said that school officials left the concept in his hands and he decided that Cristo Rey— Latin for “Christ the King” – should be the “center of everything.”
“We didn’t start out all dogmatic – that is what it will be,” Hobin explained. “We got something from everybody in there. All the drawings are from the students and we used the computer to enlarge them or shrink them. All of the students used the same drawing material, so they look like they go together.”
Hobin says that the mural will be devised to look like a back-lit stained glass window. It will take up roughly 17-by-20 feet of space on what is now a two-story blank wall on the side of the building.
One of the “characters” used repeatedly in the drawings, Hobin notes, is the neighborhood’s signature housing stock, the three-decker. I think the three-decker really places it in New England and it tells our story. I like using the three-decker, because it’s almost a character. It has a presence, a meaning.”
Hobin expects that the Cristo Rey Boston mural could be ready for installation by next fall. He says that there will need to be a fund drive to help pay for the production and the setup. He emphasized that the installation project is still in its planning stages and will include input from local residents and the civic association. The sales of the calendar this month are the first step in that process.
“I feel like this will be a destination, that people will come here just to see it. These panels are made to last. It’s going to be there for decades. The students who worked on this today will bring their kids to the school and point to it and say this is what I did.”
The students who worked on the image featured on the cover of this week’s Reporter— titled The Adoration of the Magi— include Adrian Mata-Torres, (figure grouping); Gilbert Cruz (three- decker); Jailene Cordona and Rickema Ellis-Thames (three-deckers in background); Jonalis Mejia (sky); Rebecca Rojas, Elizandra Pereira, and Misa Nguyen (princely garments).
For more information on purchasing a calendar, send an e-mail to calendar@CristoReyBoston.org.