Renovation job takes L.E.S. mural into another dimension

Getting the full effect of the renovated mural with 3D specs. The mural was not 3D before. Photo by Bob Krasner
Getting the full effect of the renovated mural with 3D specs. The mural was not 3D before.
Photo by Bob Krasner

BY BOB KRASNER  |  A: Four months, more than 500 volunteers (ages seven to 87), 12,000 square feet of wall space, a very driven nonprofit organization and a pair of 3D glasses.  Q: What does it take to create and view (possibly) the world’s largest 3D mural?

It’s not hard to find if you are anywhere near Henry M. Jackson Park, at Henry and Grand Sts. on the Lower East Side, where it covers a 277-foot-long wall. Originally created in 2002 by the nonprofit CITYarts as a reaction to the tragedy of 9/11, the work is titled “Celebrating the Heroes of Our City.” The years had taken their toll on the artwork, which was originally created by artist Richard Weinstein and 300 neighborhood kids. It was already in need of repair when Hurricane Sandy hit, leaving not much behind.

Tsipi Ben-Haim, the executive and creative director of CITYarts, wasn’t ready to let the work crumble into the dust of history. After all, it wasn’t just a painting, it was a project that was fashioned not only for the community, but by the community. As before, she set out to bring the wall to life, using the East Village artist Janusz Gilewitz as the chief restorer, and volunteers from wherever she could find them. In addition to kids from after-school programs, retirees and various locals, Disney and Davler Media sent crews. Disney was in fact the sole sponsor and Benjamin Moore donated all the paint.

Home health aide Doris Rodriguez was recruited one day by Ben-Haim while sitting in the park, and since August she’s spent two to three days a week at work on the project, because, she said, “I’m proud to do something for the neighborhood.”

Firefighters from Engine 15 pitched in to power-wash the wall before the painting began. Firefighter Arnold Galvez was subsequently surprised to find that his face was on the wall alongside his colleagues, the Freedom Tower and other symbols of New York.

“It’s really flattering,” he said. “I’m looking forward to showing it to my kids.”

Josephine Filomeno, 87, couldn’t be happier to work on the project. She’s lived in the area all her life and won’t hesitate to tell you that “there’s no place like the Lower East Side.”

“It gave the whole neighborhood a pickup,” she said of the mural. She also has a good word for Gilewitz, whom she called “inspiring.”

For his part, Gilewitz was energized by his part in the whole scene. Working with many nonartists, he realized that he “had to drop the idea that everything would be perfect.”

“It wasn’t only about the heroes,” he reflected, “but also the everyday New Yorkers who are a vital part of the infrastructure, like the people in the neighborhood who are volunteering.”

The piece is almost finished, and the last time the crew will be together will be at the ribbon-cutting ceremony on Nov. 6, from 3:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. When the shouting is over, Gilewitz will be placing a call to the Guinness Book of World Records so that they may determine if it is indeed the largest 3D mural. Whether it is or not, he knows its true value.

“The real 3D,” he said, “is the way that the wall connects the neighborhood.”