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Local artist restoring mural in Sea Cliff Village Hall

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Mark Fay has long had a penchant for painting murals. He even said it runs in his blood. His grandfather, Charles Gulbrandsen, was an apprentice in the early 1900s on the original mural that adorns the ceiling of Grand Central Terminal’s main concourse and was the general contractor on its redesign in 1945.

“I have old photographs of him working on the project,” Fay said.

When Fay moved to Sea Cliff with his wife in 1986, he was taken, as many people are, by the village’s natural beauty. He worked as an art teacher in the Manhasset School District and produced residential and commercial murals on the side. His personal and professional passions compelled him to turn a blank wall in Village Hall into an historical mural. In 1993, he did just that.

The colorful mural is 20 feet long and four and a half feet high, and was painted on the front wall of the office in Village Hall during Mayor Ted Blackburn’s administration. It depicts a view from Prospect Avenue overlooking Cliff Way, Hempstead Harbor, Glen Cove and Mosquito Cove.

Fay drew his inspiration for the mural from a black-and-white composite photograph taken in 1905, which was suggested to him by former village clerk Nancy Rose. He included many of the photo’s minute details in his rendering, including J.P. Morgan’s luxury yacht, the Corsair IV, bobbing in the harbor; a gathering of goats on the cliffside; and myriad white picket fence posts, which he said were “painstaking” to recreate.

“I wanted to do this as my gift to the village,” Fay said.

At more than two decades old, the mural has some chips and cracks across its landscape, and it recently sustained water damage. Village Administrator Bruce Kennedy said a clogged drainage hose in an air-conditioning unit on the second floor caused water to drip down behind the wall and through the mural’s surface. Watermarks now appear down part of the painting.

“It kind of took a hit,” Fay said. “I’ve been wanting to restore the mural for the past several years — it was painful to look at.”

The drainage hose, Kennedy said, has since been repaired, so Fay can now restore his mural. Since he donated the mural to the village, he will also be assuming the costs of the restoration work.

On Monday, he arrived at Village Hall with paint scrapers and sponges to begin repairing the mural (see box). He said the work would take him “the better part of the summer” to complete.

“Today I took a bunch of photographs, and I’m going to, as closely as I possibly can, match exactly what was there originally in ’93,” Fay said.

Any resident who has visited Village Hall is familiar with Fay’s mural, and the artist said it was important to him, as well as the staffers who work there, that the painting be restored to its original form.

Deputy Clerk Pat Guy has the full view of the mural from her desk. She said having it right in front of her makes her feel as if she is in the great outdoors. Talking about the water damage, she said, “I don’t even see it after a while. I just see the beautiful view. It’s a gem — I feel so lucky that it’s there.”

Kennedy said the restoration is yet another nod to preserving Sea Cliff’s history, and will continue to give residents a glimpse at the early days of village life. “That spectacular view was as important then as it is now,” he said.

“It’s a lengthy process,” Fay added, “but I feel that preserving this piece of the history of Sea Cliff will be worth the effort.”

Residents can check out Fay’s mural Mondays from 1 to 8 p.m. and Tuesdays through Fridays from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at 300 Sea Cliff Ave., Sea Cliff.