EAST MEETS WEST AT A LONG
ISLAND RAIL ROAD OVERPASS IN
KEW GARDENS

The artist, John Chadwell
The artist, John Chadwell



by DIANA SHAMAN

It started on a Saturday morning with the two walls crossing the Long Island Rail Road tracks on Onslow Place just off Austin Street painted a neutral gray. By Sunday afternoon, a transformation had taken place.

For years, this rail road overpass had suffered from graffiti vandals to the consternation of passersby and neighboring residents. On Friday, the graffiti was covered with grey paint and a design was sketched to lay out carefully designed landscapes to come. Now following hours of efforts by volunteers, a completed mural on both sides harbors a pastoral scene of Long Island to the east, and the skyline of New York City to the west.

“For me, Kew Gardens is the link between the two,” said John Chadwell, a local artist who designed the mural.

Mr. Chadwell lives in the Hampton Court as do Carol Lacks and Rosemary Sherman, both officers of the Kew Gardens Improvement Association. A little over a year ago the three came up with the concept of taking the two eyesore walls and creating something beautiful on them with a mural. A mural is artwork applied to a wall or other surfaces.

A $5,000 grant to cover expenses was applied for to the New York City Department of Transportation’s Urban Art program that promotes the use of public spaces to serve as canvases for art. The project was recently approved and about 40 volunteers went to work over two days donning aprons, hats, and other protective gear, and wielding paint brushes and paint pots.

“Done in record time because so many volunteers came,” said Mr. Chadwell from his command headquarters (the back of his station wagon) where he supervised operations . ”Put more white there; more blue over there,” he called out to his crew.

Some were local people; others were friends from Bellmore that Mr. Chadwell knows; they came from all over.

Mr. Chadwell is not a professional artist, though he has sold some of his works, mostly portraits and landscapes. He formerly worked for Apple and other high tech firms, but very recently switched to running a restaurant in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, with his wife Treva who is in the food business. The eatery serves southern heritage cooking and is called the Biscuit Café. Though open only a week at the time of the mural painting, it’s been very well received and will soon expand from lunch and dinner to include breakfast as well, he said.

Back to the mural on Onslow place.

Steve Capuano, a resident of Austin Street who was on his way to the park with his four-year-old daughter Nephele, said of the mural, “I think it’s beautiful. It would break my heart if anyone paints over it with graffiti.”

“That’s not going to happen,” said 13-year-old Sophia Burger who had come in all the way from Bellmore with her brother, Lenny, to be a volunteer painter.

“Graffiti people did all the damage before, but now if they come by and see what people who care about the world have done, and who changed what was bad into something beautiful, they are not going to destroy it,” she proclaimed, with all the glowing confidence of youth.


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