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Queens Chronicle

Hurricane Sandy survivors take out their paint brushes

Materials for the Arts in LIC opens doors to group ravaged by hurricane

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Posted: Thursday, February 28, 2013 10:30 am | Updated: 10:46 am, Thu Mar 7, 2013.

A plaster whale covered with brightly colored sea glass and tiles once looked over sunbathers at Beach 94th Street in the Rockaways.

But when Hurricane Sandy hit in October ,she took “Whalemina” out to sea.

“I’m the whale guy,” Geoff Rawling said. “But we plan to rebuild.”

Rawling — the Rockaway artist behind the revitalization of Whalemina, which once sat forlorn at the Central Park Zoo — came with about 10 other members and friends of the Rockaway Artists Alliance to Materials for the Arts in Long Island City to create art last Friday night.

It was the first time the group had met since the storm.

“This is a nice diversion from what we are dealing with at home,” Rockaway resident and Girl Scout leader Lori Creamer said.

MFTA, a city-run program where nonprofits and educators can gather supplies for their next project, provided items from glue to feather boas to markers and cardboard.

RAA President Sophia Skeans held up a thin white blanket with the Red Cross emblem dotting its surface. She critically said the meeting would be a good time for Rockaway residents to improve the flimsy blanket.

“I never got one,” one artist said.

“I would like to take my shears to it,” Creamer said. Creamer’s 14-year-old daughter, Ariel, founded Survivors Silver Lining to connect a class or family to a Sandy survivor in an effort to bridge the gap between volunteers and people who need help.

Rawling grabbed a cardboard box and an X-Acto knife with the intent to create a giant globe, which turned into a circus tent. Other artists made glittery stars while others created jewelry.

“It’s nice to have a break from such sadness at home,” Mandy Francin said. “I’m glad to see everyone’s faces. The people are what most important.”

Francin ran Art Adventures and More with Skeans. Through their company the duo hosted biweekly art classes at Fort Tilden, which has not reopened since the hurricane. Additionally, many of their art supplies were ruined when the tidal surge flooded Francin’s basement in Howard Beach.

“Sitting in the house was like being on a cruise ship,” Francin said.

One couple with the RAA lost their home in the fire that destroyed more than 100 homes in Breezy Point. Other artists at Friday’s event retold how they saw fish swimming through their neighbors’ apartment lobbies in the days following the storm and updated friends on the continuing restoration of their homes.

As for Whalemina, Rawling is searching for a used boat that he hopes will save her from future disasters.

“The hull of the boat will be the hull of the whale,” Rawling said. And in case of another hurricane, someone with the keys will jump into the boat and sail Whalemina to safety.

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