Sirovich Center’s walls brought to life with nature murals

Section of panels from “Refracted Nature in Clay”

Panel from “Refracted Nature in Clay”

By Sabina Mollot

The Sirovich Center, a senior center on East 12th Street known for its popular ceramics classes, recently got a makeover, courtesy of its own members.

On June 19, the building’s spacious auditorium was outfitted with a dozen elaborately arranged mosaic panels, some of them reliefs, along the mezzanine level’s arched windows. The works of art, made with ceramics, glass, mirror and tile, were created over the past three years by senior artists as part of a program called SPARC (Seniors Partnering With Artists Citywide). After having been installed, they’re expected to remain in place permanently.

The large scale works were put on display by the center’s custodial staff, who’d rented scaffoldings in order to get the panels into the arches located on the building’s second level.

Artist Olivia Beens, who organized the project, titled “Refracted Nature in Clay,” for the last two years, said it completely transformed the look of the auditorium.

“It was a very bland kind of auditorium,” she said. But, she added, “The murals are going to be there forever as long as the building’s standing.”

The panels are 39 by 54 inches in size and each one features different images, including birds, cats and aquatic life. Some were created by individual artists, while others chose to work with partners on panels or just on a section of a panel. A total of 12 were created, with five of them getting done this year alone. One of the participants, Jacqueline Chwast, is an illustrator of children’s books. Another, Alan Yoblon, is a longtime center employee.

Other participants were Anne Warshaw, Antonio Sian, Arthur Rivers, Claire Alfano, Clara Lee, Irene Berkson, Kyoko Nansai, Kyung Ja Park, Merrily Butler, Nick Biscardi, Nora Glikman, Peggy Paoloni, Shelley Grant, Sherman J. Sussman, Suzanne Rockman, Takami Mitchell, Tony Porpora, Yoko Kituhara and Yuko Utada.

Their panels were created using supplies and materials provided that Beens said cost around but under $10,000. The supplies were funded by a grant and the project was run through the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. Prior to Beens’ involvement, the supervising artist was Julia Whitney Barnes.

As for whether or not there are other big art projects in Sirovich’s future, Beens couldn’t say, since a grant would again have to be applied for.

“We just finished this last week,” she said, but added, “The custodians, who are sweet as can be, have been identifying places for other mosaics.”

The Sirovich Center, which is run by the Educational Alliance, is located at 331 East 12th Street between First and Second Avenues. For more information about programs and the schedule for classes, call (212) 228-7836 or visit the website.

Photos by Sherman J. Sussman

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