Notable Artist Gigi Chen To Create Forest Hills Tributary Mural

Visits: 1594

The Bagel Spot wall to be restored for the mural. Photo by Gigi Chen.

Public art is a gift for the masses, and that has been proven for generations between diverse architectural styles, sculptures and murals. 

In the near future, a new mural will honor the  rich architectural and cultural history of Forest Hills and Rego Park, while generating civic pride and a neighborly spirit.

This mural will be a visual and interactive anchor on a long-neglected large brick wall alongside The Bagel Spot at 101-01 Queens Boulevard, near Federoff Triangle, residential buildings and other longtime small businesses.

Historical icons will be meticulously painted on durable sign panels to commemorate Forest Hills (1906) and Rego Park (1923), two historic communities where some unofficial landmarks became endangered and underwent demolition in recent years.

Rego-Forest Preservation Council and Four Borough Neighborhood Preservation Alliance are in collaboration with an exceptional artist named Gigi Chen. Her artwork has been exhibited nationwide, and she has also created murals for several notable clients.

The budget is over $10,000, and nearly half has been raised to date through businesses and residents offline. Now a GoFundMe page has been created, which will enable supporters to donate and spread the word, and fulfill the fundraising goal.

Mural donors will be recognized in print and/or a sign. The donors include The Bagel Spot, where partners Ruben and Steven recently acquired a bagel shop that operated since the early 1990s, preserving a tradition and expanding its menu.

After the mural’s installation, a dedication ceremony will be coordinated and the mural will be maintained in the long-term.

Earlier murals developed by this columnist are located at the Ascan Avenue LIRR trestle and titled “A Tribute To Ascan Avenue & Forest Hills Gardens” (2017) and “The Helen Keller Forest Hills Tribute” (2019), which is accompanied by a plaque. Both murals have been the catalyst for an educational and interactive experience.

For the upcoming mural, a partnership has been established with the award-winning sign design and fabricator, Noble Signs (principals David Barnett and Mac Pohanka), which will install high quality sign panels. 

Cleanfellas, Inc, a versatile firm, will professionally strip layers of paint to restore the circa 1940 varied shade orange brick wall. Graffiti repellent will also be applied to the wall and mural panels to prevent vandalism.  

Artist Gigi Chen in front of her mural during her 2022 residency on Governors Island.

Gigi Chen’s artwork creates an aesthetic that combines her training as a traditional animator and painter, along with her love of the techniques of old-world masters. Entrenched in the art of storytelling, her works consolidate her passion for photo realism, contemporary idioms of cartooning, texture, and design to produce works that coalesce into love, craft, and fun, as she views it.

Chen was raised in Woodhaven and fondly recalls spending much time in Forest Hills and Rego Park. 

“In college, my friends and I would hang out all night in Rego Park, have breakfast at Tower Diner, and then walk along Austin Street to all the shops. We especially loved browsing Barnes & Noble and eating desserts across the street at Piu Bella,” she said. “I even went to my very first concert as a teenager at Forest Hills Stadium, but progress inevitably marches on. With the exception of the Stadium, so many of those places are gone.”

‘Find Me Under The Lights’ by artist Gigi Chen, an 18 x 24 inch acrylic on wood.

This columnist shares a history with Chen, as Class of 2000 graduates of LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and the Performing Arts in Manhattan. 

“We did not spend a lot of time together, but I remember even back then, Michael was always passionate about the history of Queens,” she reminisced. “I went on to become a full-time painter, exhibiting my work in various galleries all over the country and painting large-scale murals.” Her focus has always been wildlife, with a special focus on birds. 

Chen relocated from Woodhaven, settling in West Harlem for the past 18 years. She explained how the mural project originated. 

“When Michael approached me earlier this year to create a mural honoring lost historic buildings of Forest Hills and Rego Park, it brought me right back to those great memories. His enthusiasm is infectious, as many locals already know, and his love of the community has really made me excited for this project.”

She also explained her aspirations. “While the actual designs are a work-in-progress, I am really excited to make art celebrating the history of my beloved Forest Hills and Rego Park. Hopefully my work will add to that history as well.” 

From younger to older generations, the community is lending their support. On June 11, a fundraising table could be found at the Forest Hills Festival, a bi-annual event on Austin Street, coordinated by the Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce. Rego-Forest Preservation Council sold puzzles and games at $20, in order to drum up funds for the mural project among historic preservation causes in an enjoyable and enriching manner. “I consider it an honor to volunteer and help the historic preservation process,” said Fiorentina Amarre, a junior at Forest Hills High School, who resides in Rego Park. 

It was Amarre’s first experience volunteering in the community, and she felt that she had amazing encounters. She explained, “The fact that Michael is making the effort to preserve historical structures — something I don’t often see people strive for — makes me incredibly proud. Future generations will appreciate historic preservation because of how important classic architecture is. Its historical significance unites the neighborhood and promotes pride. Additionally, tearing down a classic monument doesn’t help with saving money, but instead creates a lot of unnecessary waste on our planet.”

FHHS student Fiorentina Amarre fundraising for preservation alongside a poster designed by volunteers, Forest Hills Festival. Photo by Michael Perlman.

Amarre loves how the mural plans that pertain to achieving that goal in a creative manner are underway. “I know that it would build an appealing environment, where people can appreciate it more. I am hoping that our neighborhood will also be able to contribute to the upkeep of the upcoming tributary mural. This can make a big impact upon our community.” 

“On behalf of the community at Kweller Prep Tutoring Center, I am proud of the architectural and cultural history mural fundraiser,” said Frances Kweller, a Forest Hills native and director of the flagship renowned learning center in Forest Hills. She was among the first to donate offline.

She feels it is imperative to preserve historic buildings for younger generations to enjoy. “The neighborhood mural will be a creative way for Kweller Prep students and all students to see a piece of history commemorated. Arts education is essential for the next generation, and we are so happy to support this fundraiser.”   

A newer resident of Forest Hills, Christine O’Brien Barr, feels happy to have settled in a community that is working to preserve the characteristics she found very attractive in her search for a new home. “I am willing to contribute any way I can to maintain the beauty of Forest Hills that my friends and family are also enjoying, as we explore my new neighborhood,” she said. 

Barr also feels grateful to play a role in the mural project. “I cannot count how many pictures I’ve taken of my kids in front of murals on vacations. People will be drawn to the interactive aspect of the mural, and it will become a source of pride for local residents,” she added. “When I have visitors, the mural will be a stop in our travels for sure.”

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Follow by Email