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Queens Chronicle

Holden helps save historical mosaic

Juniper Civic prez wins a preservation battle at his place of work, City Tech

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Posted: Thursday, September 12, 2013 10:30 am | Updated: 10:17 am, Thu Sep 19, 2013.

A Queens civic activist and his colleagues have succeeded in their efforts to preserve a historical mural on a soon to be demolished campus building at the New York City College of Technology.

“That’s very, very good news,” said the activist, longtime City Tech professor and Juniper Park Civic Association President Robert Holden. “We were able to gain a victory by saving a valuable piece of artwork in the mosaic.”

The mural, he said, is in the process of being removed from the building and is being placed in storage.

It is an issue of utmost importance to Holden, who was once a student at the college and who has worked there for three decades and has seen the mural every day he has gone to work at the campus.

In a previous interview, Holden heavily promoted the historical importance of the mural.

“This has been a fixture in the downtown Brooklyn area and the college for over 50 years,” he said. “We shouldn’t trash our history.”

The mosaic, created by African-American artist Nathaniel Choate, is a part of the Klitgord Auditorium, which will be torn down and replaced by a state-of-the-art educational facility, which will cost the college $400 million and add much-needed educational space to it.

It was among the last works of an acclaimed artist whose work can be seen in locations such as the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia and his alma mater, Harvard University in Massachusetts.

Choate worked on the six-section mural, which features figures celebrating sports, recreation, health, competition, drama and music, with acclaimed ceramicist Francis Von Tury in 1962.

Von Tury was known for innovative processes and theories on art and industry as well as aesthetics and technology.

The external mural is a part of a building that was designed by architects Francis Keally and Howard S. Paterson. Keally is best known for his work on the Grand Army Plaza branch of the Brooklyn Public Library system. The building is named after Otto Kiltgord, the first president of the college.

The mural faced possible destruction entering the summer — though college officials said its fate had not yet been decided at the time. Holden fought alongside other professors at the college to help preserve the mural. The calls for preservation were ignored by the president, Holden said, forcing the academics to call for greater help.

“We did a lot of publicity on it,” said Holden, but the publicity was not enough. “We got the daughter of one of the artists, Van Tury, who had her father’s original sketches and photographs.”

However, that was not all the effort needed. Due to the alleged refusal by the college’s president to respond, the professors enlisted the help of higher powers within the CUNY system.

“The president of the college wouldn’t talk with us, essentially, and wouldn’t meet with us,” Holden said. “So we had to go above him, and go to CUNY. I went to the trustees. I’ve done everything possible, along with other professors in the college.”

Where the mosaic will be located in the future is not yet known. However, Holden believes that its preservation is paramount.

“As long as it’s saved, and not thrown in a Dumpster, that’s the battle, and that was won,” he said.

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