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Sep 08, 2016

The State of the Artwork at the Merc at Moody and Main

Ever wonder who chooses the art in your condo complex?

Boston Magazine
September 7, 2016
By Madeline Bilis

merc moody main

It’s a phrase heard over and over in real estate development: ”blending the old with the new.” In an effort to reconnect a modern building with its existing location, designers weave traces of the past into new constructions.

At the Merc at Moody and Main in Waltham, this idea is taken a step further.

“I actually purchased an old original watch from the Waltham Watch factory,” explains Charlotte Riggs, an art consultant at Boston Art.

Riggs incorporated this watch into the art adoring the walls of the condo complex, nicknamed the Merc. She was hired by the Northland Investment Corporation’s development team to select the art for one of the newest developments in Waltham, a town also known as Watch City. The art aims to represent Waltham’s industrial past.

In the 1850s, Waltham Watch Company set up shop in the town a little more than 10 miles outside of the city. According to the Waltham Museum, it manufactured the first watches with interchangeable parts, as well as the first 100-percent American-made watches. As one of the industries that powered the town, the watch business earned Waltham the nickname Watch City. This history is incorporated into different aspects of the Merc, including the art in the lobby, near its elevators, and in common areas.

It turns out that, generally, the artworks that are tacked up in lobbies of condo buildings aren’t any old watercolor landscapes. Art consultants are hired to help identify what pieces will work best with a specific community.

“It’s an important part of our interior design process,” explains Peter Standish, Senior Vice President at Northland. “We view art as a way to help to distinguish our communities, to add our own personal style.”

In this case, the style harkens back to Waltham’s industrial heritage.

“It’s a way we can set ourselves apart,” says Standish.

The Merc at Moody and Main complex was named after a building that once stood at the spot, called the mercantile building (located at the intersection of Moody and Main Streets). In order to underscore the watch-filled history that was emphasized when the Merc was first planned, Riggs was brought on board by the complex’s architect, Stantec.

Riggs was briefed on the building’s various design elements: the chosen finishes, furniture, and other materials. Then she had to figure out a way to incorporate the history into the building’s clean and modern layout.

“How can we capture Waltham in these pieces of art but not make it look like a history museum?” asked Riggs.

The answer to that question resulted in pieces that use historic items and materials in the art itself. This approach is most evident in the building’s postcard wall murals by local artist Stephen Sheffield. Two large installations, one 18 feet long and one 27 feet long, consist of a collage of historic documents and photographs. Riggs aided in gathering hundreds of original old postcards from collectors online and from an antique store in Waltham. Together, Riggs and Sheffield created eight original collages, and then took high-resolution images of them to print the murals.

merc moody main

In another more abstract collage, Riggs included images of the the original Waltham watch she purchased, which dates back to 1899, as well as original unissued stock certificates from the Waltham Watch Company.

merc moody main

“One of the things that we really wanted to do on a number of the larger scale pieces was to create pieces that were layered enough so that people could come back and look at them time and time again,” explains Riggs. “To find something unique or a new way of interpreting something so it would consistently be fresh.”

By creating and displaying pieces that can be approached from multiple angles, the idea that lobby art is generic is cast aside.

“With all of these apartment buildings cropping up, it’s all about the amenities and how we can make the building the most special. Not only is it the fitness center, the cafe, and the outdoor seating, but artwork is really becoming an amenity in a lot of these buildings,” says Riggs.

“And I was so excited to work on this project that had such a history to Waltham, and to work with a group of people that really wanted to preserve that and also present it in a really unique way.”