A glass mosaic mural by Jack Beal was recently mounted on the wall of a New York City subway station across from his related mural that was unveiled just after September 11th. This new image presents an earlier episode in the myth of Persephone, Queen of the Underworld.
by M. Stephen Doherty
When Jack Beal was commissioned by the New York City Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) to create a set of murals for the Times Square subway station as part of the Arts for Transit initiative, his plan was to depict a modern interpretation of the Greek myth about Persephone, queen of the underworld. It took 10 years for the first of those murals, The Return of Spring, to be fabricated, transported, installed, and unveiled. That formal presentation took place on September 14, 2001, just three days after the terrorist attacks in New York City, Washington, DC, and Pennsylvania. At the time, New Yorkers hailed the 7'-x-20' glass-tile image as a symbol of their faith in the future because it showed Persephone emerging from the darkness into the light, turning winter into spring, and restoring life where there was death.
The overwhelmingly positive response to that first mural persuaded city officials to fund the companion mural, The Onset of Winter, which was installed on a facing wall in May 2005. In this update of the ancient story, Persephone fulfills her agreement to return to the underworld, thus signaling the start of the autumn and winter seasons. She "twists in agony at the top of the stairs, knowing that she must go but wishing that she could stay," explains the artist. "The event is being filmed with a group of spectators, who certainly would have materialized."
Beal posed friends, relatives, and his dog Scoo2er as participants in the mythological story, just as he did in the first mural. With the help of artist Dean Hartung, Beal captured the appearance of his models in an oil painting made to the scale of the intended mosaic. He then shipped the canvas to the Travisanutto Workshop, in Spilimbergo, Italy, and expert craftsmen translated the painted image into one made from small glass tiles. As the mural progressed, scanned photographs were sent to Beal via e-mail so he could recommend adjustments. He then traveled to Italy to approve the completed mural.
The mural was fabricated in several sections—each weighing approximately 200 pounds—that were transported to New York and installed on the wall as a seamless image. Steve Miotto, of Miotto Mosaics in New York City, supervised the entire project and worked with New York City employees to frame the mural with white tiles and illuminate it with overhead spotlights.
For more information on the MTA Arts for Transit program, contact: Metropolitan Transportation Authority, 347 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10017. For more information on Beal, write: George Adams Gallery, 525 W. 26 St., New York, NY 10001; or visit the gallery's website: www.georgeadamsgallery.com.
M. Stephen Doherty is the editor-in-chief of American Artist.