Category Archives: Public Art

The Bluefish is Back

This mural spent the winter being re-painted in my studio in the South End of Boston and now it has been re-installed in its proper place at 237 Hampshire Street, Cambridge, MA.  Thank you to George Hagerty and Justin Bothwell of US Art for their hard work moving the mural and getting it back up on the building.

Getting Started on the re-Install.
Getting started on the installation.

This project was directed by Rika Smith McNally, the director of the art conservation program at the Cambridge Arts Council.  I am grateful for her energy and guidance about using the proper materials for an exterior mural.  It even has UV protection now, so no sunburns!

George and Justin putting on the finishing touches.
George and Justin putting on the finishing touches.

Please join me for a party on Wednesday June 24, 2015 to celebrate and rededicate the mural.   We will convene right under the mural from 5 to 7 for some live jazz by saxophonist Charlie Kohlhase, food from the East Coast Grill, and good company!

The Bluefish is Good Tonight will be looking good for another twenty+ years!!
The Bluefish is Good Tonight will be looking good for another twenty+ years!!

Mosaics Can Change the World

Having recently spent five days at the American Mosaic Summit in Philadelphia, sponsored by the Society of American Mosaic Artists, my head is buzzing with thoughts about all of the presentations and workshops. I heard from Carrie Reichardt, who works against capital punishment through craftivist mosaic sculptures.  I enjoyed the talk by Isaiah Zagar where he told us about the history of the Magic Gardens, which now cover several city blocks in Philadelphia and sometimes attract over 600 visitors in a day.

The morning after I arrived, I participated in one of the day-long tours that the Mosaic Society of Philadelphia had organized. My tour was led by Philadelphia artist and teacher Robyn Miller. We stopped at congregation Rodeph Shalom to look at the mosaics on the main street entrance of the building.

Facade of Rodeph Shalom
Facade of Congregation Rodeph Shalom

We ran into a congregant, David Shapiro, who was walking to work and he arranged for us to gain entrance to the building  to see additional mosaics inside as well as a lushly painted and stenciled interior.

Interior of Rodeph Shalom
Interior of Congregation Rodeph Shalom

Our next stop was the Glencairn Museum outside of the city in Bryn Athyn. The interior was filled with mosaics which had been made on site in a glassblowing studio.  The artisans were hired by Raymond Pitcairn, an exacting man who built this castle for his family.  The glassblowers  were tasked with finding formulas that would look like the  tiles used in the middle ages. Through extensive testing they determined that over-firing the glass would  give the tiles a stone-like appearance. This museum was a testament to the handmade: every inch was well crafted, whether it was stone, glass, wood or woven textiles.

Mosaic ceiling at Glencairn Museum
Mosaic ceiling at Glencairn Museum

Next we went to The Village of Arts and Humanities in north Philadelphia that was started years ago by painter Lily Yeh. She went to this neighborhood to create a public art mural and she became permanently connected with the people she met there.   She started working with  people who were strung out on drugs or recently incarcerated and she helped them to see different paths. We were very lucky to have Lily herself show us around the garden. Neighborhood people were coming out of every door to greet her and hug her. She has helped save lives and has established a children’s art center where clay pieces are made that are used in fabricating sculptures and walls and memorials throughout several city blocks in this destitute part of the city of Philadelphia. The children now have a place to go after school, and many of Lily’s helpers have become employed in the arts.

Lily Yeh and
Lily Yeh and Patricia Edwards, who became involved in theater through the Village of Arts and Humanities.

This installation is much like Isaiah Zagar’s Magic Gardens which also grew up in an abandoned city lot in Philadelphia. Things are made out of what can be found and with materials that often don’t last. Mosaics fall apart as quickly as they can be built, but the Village of Arts and Humanities is tended and loved by the community. Walls need to be buttressed because the buildings behind the mosaic murals are crumbling. Sculpted chairs need to be re-tiled and re-grouted periodically, but now there is a small staff that tends to these things. This is life-changing, life-saving art in action.  Each corner is a little rough around the edges, but the artworks are all special to the community.  Lily Yeh embodies the idea of art that helps people and communities put the pieces back together.



Going Swimmingly

The restoration of the mural, The Bluefish is Good Tonight, is going really well.  With the help of a bunch of wonderful assistants it is moving along quickly.  As soon as it stops snowing the painting will be put back up at 237 Hampshire Street in Inman Square where it belongs!

in the studio
Harrison Ringel, Regina Gaudette, Carla Hauck and Rachel Newsam work on the details of the mural. Two coats of acrylic paint were applied to all areas.
Carla Hauck applies the first coat of paint to a green school of fish.

It was interesting to re-work a project that I did so many years ago.  My color sense has changed, and I think the new color choices will be easier to read from a distance.  I had more confidence painting it this time, which made it a lot of fun.  I removed a few details and worked with bolder shapes this time around.

Rach transferring design
Rachel Newsam transfers the designs from the original mural onto the newly refreshed panels.
detail during painting
Complimentary colors really pop!
Regina Gaudette and my new puppy Maya were both very dedicated to the project.
I remembered why I chose all of these shapes several decades ago: I used to take a ceramics class in Inman Square, so I filled up all of the empty spaces with pottery forms.

I am very grateful to Rika Smith McNally, the director of the art conservation program at the Cambridge Arts Council, for her energy and guidance on this project.  She assures me that the painting will be looking good for several more decades!

Driving home on the Massachusetts Turnpike after a long day at the studio.

The Bluefish is New Tonight

In 1987, with funding from the Cambridge Arts Council, I was asked to paint a mural for a building in Inman Square, Cambridge. The painting was called “The Bluefish is Good Tonight”, as an homage to the original Legal Seafood restaurant that once stood on this site. The imagery also contained references to the vibrant jazz scene in the area.

It had faded badly over the years and I was ready to have the mural taken down since it had been on display for almost thirty years.  It turned out that it wasn’t so easy to remove the painting because the neighbors had grown attached to it and they still liked it, even though all of the reds and purples and much of the imagery had disappeared.  I was pleased to know that it was so well-loved, and I started to hope that a plan could be made to save the mural.

Rika Smith McNally, the director of the art conservation program at the Cambridge Arts Council, was determined to find a way to re-paint the mural, and she made it happen last week!  Before I could say “What is that huge thing in my studio?”, Rika and a team from USArt, George Hagerty and Alfred Zuniga, had moved the five panels to my studio.

George Hagerty and Alfred Zuniga removing aluminum panels from Inman Square building
Rika Smith McNally and Rory Beerits of Cambridge Arts Council, cleaning the mural
Rika Smith McNally and Rory Beerits of the Cambridge Arts Council, cleaning the mural to prepare the surface for painting with Golden acrylics.
Rika and Regina sap
Rika Smith McNally and Regina Gaudette applied a layer of Golden MSA resin varnish to the surface to prepare it for painting with Golden acrylics.

I am planning to re-paint all of the background colors, and then with the help of  assistants Jill Curtis, Rachel Newsam and Regina Gaudette, we will trace the shapes and patterns back in place and repaint them.  On Rika’s recommendation we are using Golden 100% acrylic emulsion colors which are rated for excellent lightfastness.

Painting bright colors over faded areas.
Here I am painting bright colors over faded areas.
Coloful backgrounds ready for patterns to be added.
Coloful backgrounds ready for patterns to be added.

City Square with Reflecting Pool

Design for Iron Street Park in Boston by Halvorson Design Partnership

My mosaic, City Square with Reflecting Pool, was installed in the new Iron Street Park on the corner of A Street and Iron Street in Boston’s Fort Point Channel neighborhood in July.

Dan Sacco installing the mosaic in Iron Street Park, Boston

The park was designed by Halvorson Design Partnership, and this mosaic (6′ X 6′) was designed to incorporate the historic themes of the park.  Quotations highlighting  the history of this area are sandblasted into the concrete plinths in the park, and some of the seating is made from original beams from historic buildings.

20 - LR

The mosaic was inspired by the iconic loft buildings in the neighborhood which were built over 100 years ago by the Boston Wharf Company to be used as warehouses.  As you walk around the Fort Point Channel area of Boston you will see round copper Boston Wharf signs on the buildings, which indicate the years in which they were built.  The reflecting pool in the center of the mosaic is a reference to the fact that many of these buildings are built over water.