Wheaton residents visited the College Avenue neighborhood Sunday so they could scrawl their names on a brick wall, ensuring that they'd be immortalized in a mural that will celebrate the diversity of the community.
Earlier this summer, R.J. Ogren, a retired Disney artist, started painting "Pearls of the Universe," a mural on the side of the building at 1026 E. College Avenue, just east of Wheaton College. He plans to finish it in about a month, at which time it will be formally dedicated.
On Sunday, residents and other supporters were invited to write their names inside small circles that are part of the painting. Writing a name in a circle was free; those who made a $50 donation will have their names incorporated into the mural by Ogren himself.
"This mural is about people, so it seemed like a good idea to have real people be a part of it," Ogren, a Naperville resident, said Sunday. "I'm so glad people have been coming out today to sign their names."
Linda Mason, who lives across the street from the building, was one of those who added their names to the painting.
"I've been able to see this progress from the beginning because I live nearby, and it's really incredible," she said. "I think it will really individualize Wheaton when it's all done."
Mary Zumbrock and her daughter, Amanda, also signed their names.
"Anything that has to do with building the community of Wheaton, I think is a good thing," Zumbrock said. "And this painting will look great."
Ogren's 70-feet-wide painting depicts the journey of humankind over time, and when finished it will show dozens of characters from around the globe, dressed in their traditional clothes. It is designed to show and honor Wheaton's cultural diversity.
The mural project is a grass-roots community effort. Its key players include Jeannine Clinton, whose Essence Yoga studio is located inside the building; Mehret Asgedom, a resident and teacher at Franklin Middle School whose poem, "Pearl," helped inspire the painting; and Ogren. Funding and organizational assistance have been provided by the Wheaton Community Relations Commission and other groups. Financial donations from private citizens are still being sought.
Asgedom's poem deals with her experiences as an immigrant from Africa. Clinton, also an immigrant, thought it would make the perfect subject for a mural on her building. The job eventually went to Ogren, who had painted sets for Wheaton Drama in the past.
Asgedom said Sunday she's honored to have played a role in the creation of Ogren's mural.
"I see myself as being just a small part in this, but it's very exciting for me," she said. "This will reflect so well what we have in this town, the different types of people who live together here."
Those who couldn't make it Sunday will have another chance to add their names -- 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday, Sept. 14. A formal dedication of the mural is scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 6.
For more information, search for the "Pears of the Universe" page on Facebook.