By Sue Terry
Adia M. Gibbs is on a roll. The 37-year-old Stroudsburg resident has received several awards for her artwork since last summer, and she shows no signs of slowing down. With work strongly influenced by themes of family and music, Gibbs won the 1st place prize for multi media sculpture two years in a row at the COTA art competition at the Dutot Museum in Delaware Water Gap. She also won the annual COTA poster contest with her design for the 2013 COTA festival. This year, she won a 1st place in ceramic sculpture from the Pocono Arts Council, and her latest piece, a large wall mural in Dansbury Park, was chosen by Project Street Art (founded by Shane Izykowsky, Director) as the winner in a call for mural designs to be painted in 10 public areas in Stroudsburg and East Stroudsburg.
The mural was the most challenging project she had ever undertaken. Accustomed to working alone, she soon realized that she would need a team of volunteers to help her complete the large piece by the deadline. With their help, she began the painstaking process of transferring her design on paper onto the huge wall on the Dansbury Park Bathroom House. Because Gibbs had to schedule painting sessions around her day job, they worked on the mural mostly at night, often until the wee hours. The unveiling took place on August 27, 2014, and Gibbs proudly acknowledged the volunteers who had signed on to help her complete the mural: Abigail Possinger, Peter Taney, Diana Davis, Neshamah Crosby-Jones, Marlena Holsten, Nina Curry, Melody Jane, Gairre Henry, Kimya Sessoms, and Melvin Clark.
The mural features the founders of the jazz scene in the Water Gap/Stroudsburg area: legendary bandleader Fred Waring, saxophonist Phil Woods, trombonist Rick Chamberlain, and the late Ed Joubert, a jazz aficionado and promoter. In the foreground the viewer also sees a Dali-esque piano keyboard, double bass, and other musical elements, with a lush green backdrop representing the beautiful Delaware Water Gap.
Gibbs recalls the trepidation she felt earlier this year when submitting her design to Project Street Art for consideration. "I had a few ideas, but nothing jumped out. Then I thought, 'what art would make the most sense to be presented in Stroudsburg?' A painting representing the COTA festival should have been here already—but it wasn't, so I started drawing sketches."
There was one problem, though. The design needed to be submitted during the same week that Gibbs would be attending the Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina on a scholarship she had won. She would have to submit her mural design electronically, rather than in person as she had planned. She was not a full-time student at Penland and had no student ID, so she had to sneak into the library in search of a computer. In a back room she found two ancient laptops. "One of them had a 91-year-old lady sitting in front of it. I think the computer was also 91 years old. It was so slow. I wasn't even sure if it was working." Moreover, she wasn't very confident in her submission even though she knew the idea was good. "I didn't think I was going to win," said Gibbs. "My design wasn't fully fleshed out. But I decided to try for it anyway, because I wanted to reach out to the community. Music keeps people connected."
Apparently the Cyber Fates were smiling upon Gibbs that day. After completing the course and returning home, she received a phone call telling her that her design had been chosen for the mural-to-be in Dansbury Park. And when it came time to solicit help from assistants, Gibb's mother, Kimya Sessoms, was one of the ten who stepped forward. Sessoms has been singing in the choir for the annual COTA Jazz Mass for many years. But it wasn't until 2013, when Gibbs learned about the poster contest for the jazz festival, that she decided to get involved herself.
Gibbs grew up in the Bronx. How did this former New Yorker end up in Pennsylvania? When she visited family in the Poconos, it dawned on her that in New York, she "felt like a trampled sardine." But now that she lives in Stroudsburg, "I smile at people," she says. The mural in Dansbury Park is her latest music-themed artwork, and she anticipates creating more projects inspired by the COTA jazz tradition. "Kids should have art in their lives and music in their hearts," she notes.
More artwork by Adia M. Gibbs can be viewed on the Facebook page "Awakening Arts", as well as the website www.amgart.carbonmade.com.
Photo credits: Gibbs with Buddha painting by Tursaphoto. Gibbs standing next to her mural by JoAnn Payne.