Thomas Matsuda

A group of Mount Wachusett Community College students and alumni, faculty and staff gathers in front of the recently completed mural at the West Street Parking Lot in Gardner along with city officials. Pictured from left to right are MWCC Art Professor Tom Matsuda, MWCC Dean for the School of Liberal Arts Laurie Occhipinti, Corinne Goodrich, Assistant Director for the Gardner Department of Community Development & Planning Joshua Cormier, Allyson Bois, Kayla Rameau, Gardner Mayor Mark Hawke, Sahar Ghavimi, Ben Mikles, Camilo Amarles, WMCC Vice President of External Affairs, Communications and K-12 Partnerships Lea Ann Scales, Jon Chevrette, MWCC President James Vander Hooven, and Renee Tambling. Not pictured: Artist Mike Littlewood.

A mural depicting local landmarks and welcoming visitors to the city was unveiled recently after a summer of hard work by a group of Mount Wachusett Community College Art Students.

“Thank you to the students and everyone else that has been involved with this,” said MWCC President James Vander Hooven at the unveiling on August 9. “It’s really remarkable and beautiful work.”

The mural spanning the entire back wall of the downtown West Street Parking Lot was completed over the summer by a group of nine MWCC students and alumni. The project displays different Gardner landmarks including Dunn Pond, City Hall, and the famous Gardner Chair. Also included in the project was the painting of electric boxes at traffic lights throughout the city. The project followed another mural completed two years ago by MWCC students at Jackson Park in Gardner.

“This is beautifying Gardner. Public art is beautiful and it brightens up otherwise not so beautiful areas,” said Gardner Mayor Mark Hawke who explained this would not be the last project between MWCC’s art department and students and the city. “You can see people are already enjoying this… it is great work. Thank you all. And thank you Mr. President for allowing us to collaborate once again.”

The project was also a growth experience for the students and alumni who participated. In addition to the artistic expression that takes place in public art, there is a huge amount of work that goes into logistics, said Kayla Romeau who coordinated the project with MWCC Alumnus Ben Mikels.

“It was exciting to be out there being able to do our artwork but it is great to know that the community is this accepting of it,” she said explaining that neighbors would come check on the work and commend the artists on the effort.

MWCC Art Professor Tom Matsuda commended the students on all their hard work.

“I was so impressed by the efforts they put in this summer. They were texting each other. I was on the text list and there was text after text… it was so amazing to see the effort they put into this,” said Matsuda. “This was all made possible by our students. It is so great to see all the artwork around the city of Gardner and see that artwork bloom.”

The project was a follow up to the mural created at Jackson Park. Like that project, this was a collaboration between the city and college, with the artists not only getting the exposure of completing a public piece of art but receiving a $200 stipend for their efforts.

Allyson Bois stands in front of her section of wall.

Ben Mikles stands in front of his section of wall. Mikles said that he could never have completed his portion of the mural or helped coordinate the entire mural without the support of his wife and his newborn baby.

Camilo Amarles stands in front of his portion of the mural.

Jon Chevrette sits on his portion of the mural.

Kayla Rameau stands in front of her section of the mural.

Renee Tambling assisted with many sections of the mural.

Sahar Ghavimi stands in front of her portion of the mural.

Mount Wachusett Community College student Julia Van Houten is pictured with one of her drawings at the opening of a juried art show at the Cultural Center at Rocky Neck in Gloucester, MA.

Mount Wachusett Community College student Julia Van Houten is currently displaying three of her drawings in a juried show featuring 11 artists at the Rocky Neck Art Colony in Gloucester.

The selective art show is a first for the 19 year-old Van Houten, who is from Jaffrey, NH. She had been looking at different competitive art shows to submit to when she found the Rocky Neck Art Colony show and was then accepted.

“I’m trying to see if the art world is ready to let me in,” she said, explaining that she hopes to eventually curate work in an art gallery. “I’m hoping to get my bachelors at an art school and finish out my last two years there before finding a career in the field.”

One of the accepted pieces was completed as part of Van Houten’s Drawing 1 final at MWCC. She said that she never would have completed if not for being in that class last semester.

“The art department is very proud of Julia. It is quite an accomplishment to begin exhibiting while still in college, especially in her first year,” said MWCC Professor Thomas Matsuda who was one of Van Houten’s professors. “I was very impressed with the drawings she did in my Drawing 1 class. I am glad that one of the drawings was recognized and will be viewed by a wider audience.”

Van Houten said the education she has received in her first semester at MWCC has allowed her to explore many different facets of art. It has also been a chance for her to apply herself academically, she said. Van Houten earned a 4.0 in her first semester at MWCC.

“In high school, I didn’t try as hard as I should have. So when I got here I was able to focus and work really hard and so far it has been paying off,” she said.

Mount Wachusett Community College student Julia Van Houten’s sketch is currently on display in a juried art show at the Cultural Center at Rocky Neck in Gloucester, MA.

The education she is receiving will be a stepping stone to further art education, said Van Houten. During her time at MWCC, she has already taken classes in art history, drawing, 2D design as well as general education courses.

“It’s giving me a background of everything I need. It is setting me up with everything before I go to a different school or a different career. It’s very expansive knowledge,” she said.

The show is being held at the Cultural Center at Rocky Neck, 6 Wonson Street, Gloucester. It will run until August 6.

“Purification” Rubbing of charred wood from the burning of Purification sculptures at Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL. 2011 on handmade paper with flower petals. 24″x 30″ New Years Day 2012.

“Purification,” traditional Buddhist sculptures and contemporary work by Thomas Matsuda, will be on exhibition at Mount Wachusett Community College February 18 through March 15 in the East Wing Gallery of the Raymond M. LaFontaine Fine Arts Center.

An artist’s reception will take place Thursday Feb. 21 from 5 to 7 p.m., and an artist’s talk will take place Wednesday, Feb. 27 from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m., both in the gallery. The reception and talk are open to the public. Regular gallery hours are Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Born in Connecticut in 1956, Matsuda earned his BFA in drawing and painting from Pratt Institute, and his MFA in sculpture from the University of Massachusetts. He began his career as a lithographic printer in New York, creating abstract drawings, paintings, and prints influenced by Eastern philosophy. His interests led him to accompany a group of Japanese Buddhist monks on a peace pilgrimage that involved walking across America for six months. He then spent six months in Arizona with the Navajo.

Following these experiences, he traveled to Japan in 1983, where he apprenticed under the renowned sculptor Koukei Eri for two years, before moving to a remote mountain village for 10 years. There, he carved sculptures from wood he hauled out of the mountain forests and from stones he selected from riverbeds. While in Japan, he created more than 200 sculptures for temples, shrines, villages, businesses and individual patrons.

“Fire, air, water, earth and space are the five elements in eastern culture,” says Matsuda, an art professor at Mount Wachusett Community College. “I use these natural elements in my work, often burning wood. Each time, my work evolves with the situation, site, inspiration and materials. I have created large fire ritual/performances at many venues. I have collaborated with dance troupes, musicians, Buddhist monks, and Native Americans. I deal with the environment, natural and human, addressing environmental issues, cultural relationships, and the integration of art, culture, and spirituality.”

Matsuda has had solo exhibitions in major cities in Japan and throughout the United States. His outdoor sculptures are in sculpture parks, parks, and universities nationally and internationally including Pedvale Open-Air Museum, Latvia; Maria Howard Arts Center, North Carolina; Morton Arboretum, Illinois; Western Michigan University, Michigan; Fields Sculpture Park, New York; Abington Sculpture Park, Pennsylvania; Smith College, Massachusetts; University of Massachusetts, Amherst; Leverett Peace Pagoda, Massachusetts; Grafton Peace Pagoda, New York.

The Conway, Mass. resident has exhibited in group exhibitions in major galleries in New York City including Exit Art, as well as at galleries in Qatar, Egypt, Germany, London, Bejing, Hungary, Rumania, India, and Japan. He has been awarded many grants, including from the Adolph and Ester Gottlieb Foundation, U.S. Embassy, the Japan Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and the Blanche Colman Award.

In 2009, he created and curated the traveling exhibition ‘Prayer Flags Around the World,’ which has traveled through New York and Massachusetts to Boston, France, Romania, Netherlands, and Germany, and will proceed to Australia, Switzerland, Sudan and Vietnam.

Matsuda describes his work as a culmination of all of his experiences and ideas. “I am constantly striving to realize a synthesis of East and West. Koukei Eri said, ‘In the West, sculpture, like most forms of art, is viewed as a medium of artistic self-expression. By fixing his name to his works, the artist seeks to manifest his individuality – as well as to seek eternal recognition. With Buddhist sculpture, however, what is important is for the artist to devote himself wholeheartedly to his task in an attitude of benevolence. That’s why you will find no signature or seal on a Buddhist image.’ In this way, I approach my own art and the work that I pursue,” Matsuda says.

Matsuda teaches drawing, design and sculpture at Mount Wachusett and also teaches at the College of New Rochelle Graduate School, New York. He previously taught for many years at Pratt Institute. For more on the artist and his work, visit