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Queens Chronicle

The World’s Fair, free pickles and the muralist

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Posted: Thursday, December 15, 2011 12:00 pm

If you ask anyone who went to the 1939 New York World’s Fair what they remember most, chances are very good the answer will be the H.J. Heinz Pavilion.

Heinz gave out millions of pickle pins with the number 57 on them, representing the company’s 57 different “varieties” (actually different products, and there were actually more than 60). The pin is one of the most commonly saved items of the 1939 fair. Along with it you received a free pickle — and you were allowed on line over and over for seconds with no problem.

H.J. Heinz had strong roots here in Queens. The firm had just completed a large modern factory headquarters at 23-23 Borden Ave. in Long Island City in 1936, employing thousands of people from Queens and the surrounding areas.

Then in 1938 Skidmore, Owings and Moss Associates was chosen to design a Heinz dome exhibit for the fair in Flushing Meadows. The firm hired famous New York-based muralist Domenico Mortellito (1906-1994) to create artwork for it.

The mural, one of the finest at thefair, was 115 feet long by 35 feet wide and done in relief cement carved al fresco, with red being the predominate color. It portrayed a large central figure representing theharvest and others symbolizing farming methods in the Western world.

In 1941 the pavilion was demolished. Heinz eventually moved out of Queens. But Mortellito was invited back to create the artwork for the 1964-65 World’s Fair by DuPont, his employer, whose products — including Teflon, nylon, Lucite, and rigid urethane — he used in his artwork.

Mortellito is not a household name but he made serious contributions to the two great world’s fairs held here in Queens.

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