J. Pierpont Morgan’s world-famous yacht, a bevy of cliffside goats and an interminable white picket fence are just some of the details that Mark Fay rendered more than two decades ago on a once blank wall at the Sea Cliff Village Hall. Inspired by a black-and-white composite photograph snapped in 1905 atop an overlook of Hempstead Harbor, the vibrant mural exalts the beauty of the sea “when the Gold Coast was in full swing,” Fay said. The painting portrays harmony between humankind and nature.
Yet the mural, chipped and cracked by the winds of time, recently suffered machine-made water damage. A clogged drainage hose in the air conditioning resulted in water leakage to the wall that the mural adorns. However, the hose has since been fixed and on July 8, Fay finally got his wish and began to restore the mural he donated in 1993.
“So many Sea Cliff residents volunteer for a lot of things,” he said. “I thought it would be an appropriate gift.”
First, Fay stripped away the mural’s damaged areas down to the plaster. Next, he seal-coated, spackled and primed more than 40 patches of the mural, which is 20 feet long and four and a half feet high.
In the coming weeks, Fay will repaint the repaired areas, using reference photos, formulas and drawings from more than a quarter-century ago to match the original mural’s colors and compositional elements. The process, he predicts, “will take a good part of the summer” to finish.
A propensity for mural restoration appears to run in Fay’s blood. Eighty years before Fay made his contribution to the village, his grandfather Charles Gulbrandsen, started painting the ceiling of Grand Central Terminal’s main concourse, serving as the general contractor on its redesign in 1945. Fay, 69, always knew that he “was going to be doing something” with his art, and fondly recalls drawing and painting with his grandfather, whom he described as “an amazing influence.”
“Every so often—it wasn’t very often, but when it was, it was very special, I’d come home from school and smell cigar smoke, and I’d think, ‘Oh good, Gramps is here,’” he said. “We shared a lot of pretty great things together.” Fay earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) in art education at his grandfather’s alma mater, the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. Fay also taught art at the Munsey Park Elementary School for 29 years until his retirement in 2014, though he still substitutes there on occasion. Beforehand, he taught in his hometown of Port Washington for 12 years.
“I always tried to get my kids to become good observers,” he said. “So much of what they’re doing nowadays is between their thumbs, and you try to get them to look out and just really observe nature and the beauty that surrounds us.”
In the past couple years, he’s worked with high schoolers in Manhasset, some of whom he taught in kindergarten. Additionally, he’s been an adjunct instructor in Hofstra University’s Teaching, Learning & Technology department for the past 20 years.
“I push my students to become really focused not just on the craft of teaching, but their ability to connect with their students,” he said. Since 1990, he’s worked on dozens of homes, restaurants and public buildings as a commercial and residential muralist. During his time at Munsey Park, he painted seven murals, striving to capture the glamour of national parks and landmarks, such as Montauk Point Light, the first lighthouse in New York State.
Fay elaborated on how his surroundings have shaped his artwork. “I’ve lived here on Long Island all my life and I think a lot of people take some of what we have here for granted,” he said. “We don’t live in Denali or the Grand Canyon, but there really is so much fabulous beauty here on Long Island, and I’ve used that over the years for a lot of the inspiration behind a lot of the work that I’ve done.”
For more information regarding his work, contact Mark Fay at 516-413-0407 or faymark50