highlands muralmuriel smith 120

It was 1979 and Jimmy Kovic was in his second year at Pratt Institute, that prestigious institute of higher learning with campuses in Manhattan and Brooklyn. A native of Highlands, Jimmy knew he’d be following in the footsteps of his dad, the late Mike Kovic, a talented artist as well as a building contractor.

Even as a kid going to Our Lady of Perpetual Help School, and horsing around with the likes of Bobby Wicklund, Jimbo Smith, Patrick O’Neil, both clans of Dempseys….TR, Blaine, Peter and Mark to name a few, and all the other kids that called Highlands home…Jimmy had this talent with pen, paint, crayon and any surface that could take it. He saw shades and shadows no one else saw, and he could adeptly put them all into everyone’s vision.

   So it was no surprise to those who knew him that where everyone saw mindless graffiti on the Miller Street hill wall in Highlands, Jimmy was watching the shadows the trees that once stood above the wall were making. Why not make something better looking there, Jimmy asked himself.

     The late Neil Guiney was Mayor then, and lived a couple of blocks from the Kovic home. Jimmy went to him and said he could do something with that wall…he could make it look so much better than graffiti. The Mayor not only agreed…he already knew Jim’s talent…but said if Jim wanted to take it on, the borough would provide the paint.

   And that’s how the first Miller Street wall got created! Jimmy could be seen out there every day, covering that 144 foot long expanse, some sections as high as nine feet…none lower than six feet. All the while, Jimmy would chat with the folks walking up and down the hill, or wave a paint brush in response to a honking horn as another spectator drove by. And when it was all finished, there was no more graffiti….instead, a spectacular vision of how a native Highlander saw his town in four seasons. Jimmy had created, drawn and painted the Highlands he loved in winter, spring, summer and fall.

   The vision was there for years until, at first time and the elements faded it, later, more of the graffitti that inspired Jimmy the first time. But now, 21st century Jim Kovic is still a native painter, still remembering all those lessons from Pratt, still following in his dad’s footsteps. But now he’s in his early 50s, has two sons; his dad died but he is proud to be working in his same studio at the Kovie home where Jim and all his siblings are so protective of their mom. And Jim was once again upset by the graffiti on a wall so many pass every day.

   So when the Highlands Business Partnership put a call out for bids to paint the wall, you can bet Jim Kovic was right up there. Seems strange that the talented local artist had to put in a bid to cover his own work, but that’s business. And now Jim Kovic, whose work appears throughout the east, locally on a building by the bridge in Sea Bright, in Asbury Park, in medical illustrations, and most refreshingly and inspiring, in the children’s room at the Headquarters Branch of the County Library in Manalapan, was awarded the bid to cover his own work with more of his own.

     The art is a work in progress. Jim has designed the wall to look like a series of post cards, and in a way, they’re still reflecting the seasons in Highlands. But they’re postcards that show what’s special about this community….the history with the Half Moon of Henry Hudson, the symbolism and illumination of the Twin Lights, the stereotype Greetings from Highlands post card….Bruce made Asbury Park’s similar card the title of his first album…and there’s more to come.

   Jim is including some lines from Highlands own Sweetheart of a poet, the late Ann McNeill. Mrs. McNeill was a teacher at OLPH, and an inspiration to every kid who ever sat in a desk in front of her…for Jim, it was a summer school class in math. And when she was teaching, even when she was well over 100 years old and a resident at the King James..opps, Care One Care Center…Ann McNeil was writing poetry. Jim is including one of her favorites, one of his favorites, in his soon-to-be-finished wall.

     Through the years, Jim Kovic has improved, if that’s possible, his own very special talents; his work has been regarded, esteemed, and admired by people from all over the world. He still gets his inspiration from the trees, shadows, sand castles, the people he loves. He uses the talents that were honed at Pratt in those fine arts, print making, and illustrating and drawing classes. He still works at the same desk where his dad worked. And he’s simply happy to be painting the world as he sees it……wall by wall, illustration by illustration.

   Take another look at that Miller Street wall. It should be done by July. And thank the Highlands Business Partnership for knowing local talent when they see it.

   And if you see Jim Kovic with his paintbrush and ladder against the wall…honk your horn or call out a thank you. He’s proud of his home town and wants the world to see how special it is…..