The Artist On Her New R Train Mosaic and the Nabe that Inspired It

03/08/2011 12:19 PM |

bennettmosaic.jpg

To provide the crowning glory to the R train’s 86th Street station’s $13.8 million makeover, the MTA contracted 33-year-old painter Amy Bennett, who decided to build “a giant glass mosaic of fictional Bay Ridge homes, inspired by real houses from the neighborhood,” the Daily News reported. Usually the creator of 10-inch oil-painted landscapes, Bennett began by making a 45-inch scale model, which she then converted into an oil painting, which she took across the Atlantic to Munich, where craftspeople copied her image to create the glass mosaic. The finished product will be unveiled in April. We caught up with Bennett to hear her thoughts on the neighborhood that has occupied much of her last year.

How familiar with Bay Ridge were you when you got this job?
I’ve enjoyed exploring different neighborhoods in Brooklyn over the years, but never made it to Bay Ridge. Friends recommended a couple restaurants there, but beyond that, I never had a reason to go. I can see now that I was missing out. It’s not a trendy place, but has its charms thanks to its long established community.

So, how did you familiarize yourself with the neighborhood?
I walked through the neighborhood, trying to zigzag between the streets to try to see it all—the cannon at Fort Hamilton Park, a close-up of the Verrazano, the shops and restaurants along Third, Fourth, and Fifth avenues, Shore Road and its gorgeous park, the view from the hill of Owl’s Head Park, The Farrell House, The Gingerbread House…it’s a much bigger place than I expected. I also took out two books from the library. They were loaded with historical photos and tales of the past.

What were some of the favorite things you discovered?
The Gingerbread House was a fun piece of architecture, and the high school that is nearby has “Boys” and “Girls” gymnasiums inscribed on the building, which I found entertaining. The architecture in general was what stood out to me: large homes that hearken back to the neighborhood’s rural roots, when Bay Ridge was a summer vacationland of grand estates.

Any disappointments?
Like many parts of Brooklyn, it’s too bad that a highway runs along the waterfront.

What were the challenges, as a painter, of designing a work for mosaic?
Size and scale were the biggest challenges for me. I paint tiny, detailed paintings, so it was an intimidating prospect to be responsible for 225 square feet of wall space. Plus, translating my painting into mosaic, a hard, chunky material with a limited palette, was difficult. But, I learned a lot through the process and couldn’t be more excited to see the work finally installed.

Any plans to move to Bay Ridge?
I don’t have any plans to move to Bay Ridge, although it seems like an ideal place to raise a family.

How does it compare, do you think, to Brooklyn Heights, where you live now, or DUMBO, where you work?
The neighborhood has a nostalgic quality that Brooklyn Heights also shares. Another thing I like about both places is the abundance of trees. The only connection I can make between Bay Ridge and DUMBO is the dramatic perspective each provides by their proximity to a massive bridge.