Thursday, February 20, 2014

Richard Haas’ Mosaic Masterpiece on Queens Boulevard Turns 25

Richard Haas' mosaic mural, Photo by Michael Perlman, Rego-Forest Preservation Council

Queens Boulevard has shops, buildings, roadways, and a few public works of art… if you look carefully enough. This year marks the 25th anniversary of a mosaic mural designed by the famed architectural muralist, Richard Haas.  

The mural adorns the curved façade of TD Bank at 108-36 Queens Boulevard in Forest Hills. It showcases America’s earliest planned garden community, the Forest Hills Gardens, which originated in 1909. At the foot of Station Square sits the Long Island Railroad Station, which extends across its width. Bearing prominence in the mural is the Forest Hills Inn, which opened in 1912 and towers over Station Square. The scene commemorates the Gardens’ Tudor and Arts and Crafts styles, as well as monumental trees, which resulted from the partnership of principal architect Grosvenor Atterbury and landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. 

The charm is further captured through a birdseye view of homes beyond the Inn, as well as specific examples of cottages in individualized windows along its perimeters. Also depicted is a cornerstone of tennis and music history, the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium, which opened in 1923, and a backdrop of the Manhattan skyline featuring the Twin Towers. 

“I have always said this was one of my secret favorites,” said Richard Haas. “I was taken by the history of Forest Hills as a planned community based more on English and other European precedents.” He designed the mural as the first of an extensive series for the Home Savings Bank of America in 1989. It was executed in Spilimbergo, Italy by professional craftsmen under Mr. Trasavenuto’s leadership, and installed by Mr. Cravato in Forest Hills.      
Haas’ contemporary creations often become relics. “It's so classic-looking, that I had no idea it was such a recent creation,” said Kew Gardens resident Liz Manning Jarmel.
Actor Emil Beheshti, a former Forest Hills resident said, “I am proud to see Richard Haas’ beautiful mosaic, as it reflects my childhood and the care given by residents. It reminds us of the rich history of Forest Hills and its gorgeous architecture.”

The mural was on the brink of demolition when Commerce Bank became the tenant in the mid-2000s, and referenced their storefront design standards. That was when landlord Cord Meyer Development Company had requirements of their own. “It would have been almost sacrilegious to alter or remove the mural. We appreciated the mural’s beauty and significance, as well as the survival of the World Trade Center picture,” said Anthony Colletti, Chief Operating Officer of Cord Meyer. “We made keeping the mural a deal breaker. Soon after, everyone was a winner; Cord Meyer, Commerce Bank, and most importantly, the community.”

Queens residents expressed their pride. Kevin Walsh, Founder of Forgotten New York hopes the mural will not be forgotten. “Now we can be thankful that Richard Haas' fanciful depiction of Station Square and the Gardens beyond will remain, to inspire generations to come.” 

I pass this several times a week, and on sunny days, the gold mosaics absolutely gleam,” said Regina Judith Faighes. “It is an aesthetically beautiful monument to our beloved Forest Hills, and I feel there should be a ceremony honoring the very talented Richard Haas and his gift to our community.”

One of Haas’ major tools is his paintbrush, which he applies to a façade and redefines a technique known as “trompe l’oeil.” He creates an optical illusion by adding architectural detail and dimension to an otherwise blank canvas. Last year, he told CBS Sunday Morning, “A mural contains a neighborhood in many ways. It begins to make people aware of what the beauty is that’s around them.”

Richard Haas, Courtesy of the artist

In 1978, Paul Goldberger, a Pulitzer Prize-winning architectural critic and educator wrote, “The art of Richard Haas is at once entirely realistic and quite fantastic.” He then went on to say, “From a period when Haas began to make small dioramic boxes of artist’s interiors in the mid-Sixties and later New York street views, to the time when he was involved in full scale reshaping of urban exterior and interior environments, Richard Haas has been an ‘urban artist’ without peer.”

Richard Haas was born in 1936 and raised in Milwaukee. In the mid-1950s, he worked as a stonemason assistant to his great uncle George Haas, who was the master stonemason at Taliesin, the home of Frank Lloyd Wright. As an assistant professor at Michigan State between 1964 and 1968, it afforded him the opportunity to meet notable artists and critics such as Barnet Newman, Clement Greenberg, and Jules Olitski. In 1968, he made New York his home, and in 1975, painted his first outdoor mural featuring a replica of a cast-iron façade at Prince Street and Greene Street. This led to various outdoor commissions across America, which continues to this very day.

A similar version of this story appears in Michael Perlman's Forest Hills Times column:

No comments:

Post a Comment